By: Somaya Mandgar
Marzia left her house on a cold, rainy day at the end of fall to pick up an aid package from the World Food Program (WFP.) After paying for two vehicles, she reached the aid distribution point in Bamyan city and waited for hours, along with so many desperate others, for her turn.
For Marzia, 45, the food package would not last for very long – it’s 25 kilograms of flour, seven kilos of chickpeas, and five liters of oil – but for her and her family, it’s essential. Once she finally got her package, she made the trip back home, tired but happy. But when she opened the flour, her smile disappeared. The flour is rotten and full of worms. She had made the arduous journey for nothing.
“It was worth nothing,” she says. “It couldn’t be eaten.”
Marzia’s husband has a physical disability and is unable to work. She alone is responsible for providing for a family of eight and it was the first time she had gone to receive an aid package.
“When I opened the flour and saw that it was covered with worms, I said from the bottom of my heart, what kind of aid it is. It’s better if there had been no aid because people would have less trouble.”
Since the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan, the economy has dramatically weakened and many jobs disappeared. A crisis of hunger is spreading throughout the country. The United Nations Aid Coordination Office (OCHA) recently announced that more than half of Afghanistan’s population needs humanitarian aid to survive. In provinces like Bamyan, poverty is even more acute.
For some, the situation is so dire that some women have admitted to using even the rotten and spoiled goods they receive in aid packages to feed their children. But the distribution of ruined food under the name of “aid” by an internationally recognized institution is an insult.
Gulbakht, 50, is a beneficiary of such aid. The last time that food was distributed in Bamyan, she received rotten and worm-infested flour. She says that after waiting in line for three hours, she gratefully took home the aid package. But when she opened the bag, she realized that the flour was rotten.
Gulbakht says out of absolute necessity, she sifted the flour three times to try to remove the insects and bugs from it, but she was unable to get rid of them all. So she baked with the flour and gave it to her children to eat.
“We have to eat. Even if this flour smells off and is full of worms,” Gulbakht says.
She is among the cave dwellers of Bamyan and is the sole income earner for her children and family.
She says if she had money, she would never have accepted such “aid”. She says it was like throwing dirt in the eyes of hungry people.
Mahtab, 30, also received food aid that was rotten and unusable. She is very upset that the flour she paid for a car rental to go and pick up was riddled with weevils, but she was also forced to use that flour due to extreme poverty.
Azada*, 43, says her family has also resorted to using the rotten flour they picked up from the Bamyan aid distribution.
“We ran out of flour. So again, we used the aid flour. It was very bad. It was very upsetting about what kind of dough it made,” Azada says, adding that she was afraid the flour would make her children sick.
“I was very afraid that all my children would get a stomach ache, but we are forced to eat it because we have no more flour. Their (WFP) flour is very wormy. When I make the dough, I sift it in hiding from my children. If they see that it has worms, they won’t eat it.”
As winter sets in, the concerns about poverty in Afghanistan is getting worse. Especially for families who depend on humanitarian aid.
Aziza*, 48, recently received WFP aid in Bamyan. She says just looking at the flour made her feel sick, let alone eating it. But the horror of her poverty has forced her to eat it and feed it to her family as they had no alternative.
She is the sole breadwinner for her family of nine and is currently unemployed.
The packaged flour is distributed with the logo of the World Food Program.
Wahidullah Amani, WFP spokesperson in Afghanistan, tells Rukhshana Media that the organization is not distributing spoiled flour to people in Bamyan. He says the WFP has received no complaints about it, but admitted there had been complaints about poor quality food in Daikundi, and that had been addressed by the organization.
He says that the organization has provided a toll-free number to receive complaints about the distribution of low-quality materials or unfair distribution of aid.
* The names of the interviewees have been changed at their request due to security reasons.