Afghanistan's new poor line up for aid to survive as food crisis bites

Two long lines -- one of men, another of women -- wind around a World Food Programme (WFP) aid distribution site in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in the heat of the mid-morning sun.

Many of the people waiting for support in Khwaja Rawash, a middle-class neighborhood near the Kabul International Airport airport, are Afghanistan's new poor. They used to have decent jobs; now they lean on international aid to survive. The 3,800 Afghanis (just over $40) they receive from the WFP will help them make it through the month.

It's calmer than it was on the first day of handouts this month in this district, Khalid Ahmadzai, a WFP coordinating partner at the site, tells CNN. Back then, on May 11, people clambered over the walls to get in. The WFP says it helped 3,000 households in that district on the first day, with each household having an average of seven people in it.

Last Sunday, around 700 people waited patiently for up to two hours before their IDs were checked and the money was handed over.

Ahmadzai says people are desperate. "A few days ago, one woman came to me and told me: 'I want to give you my son for 16,000 Afghanis,''' he says, a sum amounting to about $175. "She was crying. It was the worst feeling I have had in my life."

He added: "Her son was maybe three or four years old... The feeling that she had about his hunger and the economical situation they had, she was at a stage to ask to sell her son." Armed fighters from the Taliban, who once attacked Afghanistan's capital, now provide security at the food distribution center.

Their presence highlights a cruel irony articulated by Azima, a teacher in the queue, who is receiving aid for the first time in her life. She says the security situation has got better since the Taliban seized Kabul last year: "Suicide bombings have stopped. But people's economic situation couldn't be worse."

Afghanistan's economic crisis has loomed for years; the result of poverty, conflict and drought. But after the Taliban seized power in August 2021, the US and its allies froze about $7 billion of the country's foreign reserves and cut off international funding. The move crippled an economy already heavily dependent on aid.

Millions of Afghans are out of work. Government employees haven't been paid. And the price of food has soared. Almost half the population -- 20 million people -- are experiencing acute hunger, according to a United Nations-backed report released this week.

There are fears the crisis could kill more Afghans than 20 years of war.

"Farmers ... have told me that, through decades of war, they have never had to stand in line for humanitarian assistance -- until now," Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP country director for Afghanistan, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Kabul.

"I met many, many women, even female heads of households, widows, who were able to fend for themselves and it's all just imploded for them... The drought and the economic crisis... it's that whole collision of factors coming together."