Kabul, Afghanistan/ Kayhan Mohammadi

Afghanistan’s economy was in crisis even before the Taliban took control in August 2021. But now it has reached a critical point, with widespread poverty and food insecurity.

In less than two years, over a million people have lost their jobs. A staggering 97% of the population is now living below the poverty line and earning $1 or less each day. Nearly 20 million Afghans suffer from acute food insecurity, more than 6 million of them were in dire emergency situations, 4 million people, including 3.2 million children under  5, were acutely malnourished according to the The World Food Program (WFP). 

The crisis is rooted in several factors.

Disruption of trade and commerce because borders and airports were closed has led to shortages of essential goods and higher prices . Many countries, including the U.S., froze Afghan government assets, including the central bank’s, resulting in a shortage of foreign currency. A decrease in international aid, higher unemployment, and the flight of skilled Afghan labor has only added to the crisis.
But also crucial is the Taliban’s decision to ban girls from attending school and women from universities has raised concerns about the economic and social impact of this policy. According to a December report by the United Nations, the cost of excluding women from the Afghan economy is estimated to be as high as $1 billion a year.

“The hiring of non-professionals in professional offices and such dealings in the recruitment process have all caused the unemployment rate to rise,” said Asif Nang, a specialist in economics who was the professional and technical deputy in the Ministry of Education before the Taliban took over. “This means poverty will intensify and the number of people who leave the country will also increase.”

Overall, jobs declined by 700,000 from August 2021 to August 2022, according to The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). This trend is particularly devastating for women, among whom employment dropped 21% by mid-2022. The negative effects are even more pronounced for women-owned businesses, with 42% of them temporarily closed, compared to 26% of businesses owned by men.

The political and economic crises caused Afghanistan’s GDP to contract by 20.7% from $20.14 billion to $14.79 billion in 2021. While partial resumption of foreign aid stabilized the economy, job losses and economic deprivation persist. Inflation peaked at 18.3% in July 2022, but has since eased to 3.5% in February 2023, though prices remain high because of other factors like a winter-induced slowdown. 

The Taliban’s history of human rights abuses, treatment of women and support for extremist groups has cost them recognition of many countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia. Just last week, the Taliban declared that women are now banned from working for the UN.

Despite these concerns, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s interim foreign minister,  recently published an opinion piece  in Aljazeera on March 23 calling on the United States to lift sanctions and work with them to address the economic crisis and humanitarian situation. “The primary cause of the ongoing economic crisis is the imposition of sanctions and banking restrictions by the United States,” he wrote. “This impedes and delays our efforts to address the humanitarian crisis.”

But Afghan women who lost their livelihoods when the Taliban took over say they are to blame. Sediqa Bahrami worked in the financial division of the Department of Communications in the Ministry of Defense. She lost her job, along with more than 500 other women who worked in the ministry’s administrative department.  “Now I am at home, focusing on studying English and trying to navigate the challenging circumstances that the Taliban has created for women so that I can continue to live my life,” said Bahrami. “The situation has been particularly difficult for women, with many facing mental and economic challenges, especially those who worked during the republic government and had gained independence.”