• Sunday, Oct 02, 2022
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

Afghans sell their belongings as economic crisis nears

  • Published at 03:16 pm September 13th, 2021
Afghanistan Kabul flea market
This photo taken on September 12, 2021 shows shopkeepers displaying second-hand household items for sale at a market in the northwest neighbourhood of Khair Khana in Kabul AFP

Kabul's flea markets are packed with the belongings that desperate Afghans have sold at rock-bottom prices to fund their escape from Taliban rule

Shukrullah brought four carpets to sell in Kabul’s Chaman-e Hozori neighbourhood. The area is full of refrigerators, cushions, fans, pillows, blankets, silverware, curtains, beds, mattresses, cookware and shelves that hundreds of others carried to sell.

The goods line the blocks surrounding the once grassy field that has turned to dirt and dust, the result of decades of inattention and drought.

Each item amounts to a part of a life families built over the last 20 years in the Afghan capital.

Now, they are all being sold at a pittance to feed those very households, reports Al Jazeera.

Kabul's flea markets are packed with the belongings that desperate Afghans have sold at rock-bottom prices to fund their escape from Taliban rule, or just to pay for food, reports AFP.

Plates, glasses, and kitchen appliances are piled high on makeshift tables at the outdoor bazaars, alongside 1990s television sets and old Singer sewing machines, while rolled-up carpets are propped up on second-hand sofas and beds.

Also Read - UN seeks $600 million to avert Afghanistan humanitarian crisis

Afghans have faced a cash crisis since the Taliban took control of the capital on August 15. 

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the US central bank cut off Afghanistan’s access to international funds in recent weeks.

Banks across Afghanistan were shuttered and many automated teller machines were not dispensing cash.

This photo taken on September 12, 2021 shows a man looking at secondhand household items for sale at a market in the northwest neighbourhood of Khair Khana in Kabul AFP

Since the Taliban stormed to power in mid-August, Afghans say job opportunities have dried up and they are only allowed to withdraw $200 per week from their bank accounts, meaning cash is in short supply.

Even before former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban took control, Afghanistan was already facing a slowing economy that was exacerbated by the global Covid-19 pandemic and a protracted drought that has further devastated an economy highly reliant on agriculture.

"We don't have anything to eat, we are poor and we are forced to sell these things," said Mohammad Ehsan, who lives in one of Kabul's hillside settlements and came to the bazaar lugging two blankets to sell. 

Ehsan said he used to work as a labourer, but building projects have been cancelled or put on hold.

"Rich people were in Kabul, but now everybody has escaped," he told AFP. 

He is one of many Afghans who come to the flea markets to sell what they can spare directly to buyers, carrying their possessions on their backs or rolling them along on rickety street carts.

Also Read - Shahriar Alam: Bangladesh waiting to see permanent government in Afghanistan

He has lived through "change after change" in Afghanistan, and says he is wary of the Taliban's claims of peace and prosperity, as basic food prices skyrocket -- like they did when the Taliban were last in power from 1996 to 2001.

"You can't believe any of them," Ehsan said.

Impoverished Afghanistan was already facing a drought, food shortages, and enormous pressure on its health service caused by the Covid-19 outbreak before the Taliban took control, sparking western nations to clamp down on aid that props up the Afghan economy.

This photo taken on September 12, 2021 shows a shopkeeper holding a doll at a secondhand market in the northwest neighbourhood of Khair Khana in Kabul AFP The United Nations Development Program warned last week that the percentage of people living under the poverty line could rise from 72-97% by the middle of next year, without rapid action.  

'Helpless and poor'

Further into the bazaar, people work to repair electrical goods such as stereos, fans and washing machines before selling them on.

Teenage boys press carrot or pomegranate juice on mobile stalls, while others weave through the crowds with bananas, potatoes and eggs in wheelbarrows. 

Ragmen -- the shopkeepers who buy and sell used goods -- said they have never been so busy.

Mostafa, speaking from his shipping container that serves as his shop, told AFP that many people he had bought from were travelling to the borders in hope of leaving the country. 

"In the past, we would buy stuff from one or two households in a week. Now, if you have a big shop you can have the contents of 30 households at once. People are helpless and poor," he told AFP.

Also Read - Kabul chaos: 15 Bangladeshis on the edge for 16 hours

"They sell their stuff that is worth $6,000 for about $2,000," he added.

Mostafa, who said he has no plans to leave, said buyers at his shop were often those who had fled rural provinces for the safety of the capital when the Taliban launched their sweeping offensive. 

Another ragman, who did not want to be named for fear of his safety, told AFP he had only set up his stall in recent weeks.

"I was a trainer in the military for 13 years," he said, adding he lives in fear of the Taliban as a consequence. 

"Unfortunately, our society got turned upside down, so we were forced to do other things.

"I became a ragman -- we had no other option," he said.

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