Watch John Ray's heartbreaking report from Afghanistan
A warning this article contains descriptions and images readers may find distressing.
Their bare feet slip and slide in the snow. Six children stand outside the mud-walled room they call home.
It is freezing cold. But there’s no wood for the stove.
Their father is dead, they are destitute, and their mother is desperate.
"I’m beaten," she cries. "What more can we do. God knows, we have nothing."
John Ray reports from the streets of Kabul
We’ve seen Zia Gul at a local market. A middle-aged woman with her children laid out under a blanket, like goods for sale, as she begs passers-by for help.Their lives depend on strangers’ charity. But she’s in debt on the room she rents, and a gaping hole in the roof lets in the snow that has fallen heavily.This winter in Kabul, there is, it seems, a chill in every heart.When the Taliban took charge, Western aid vanished as quickly as the departing US troops.
The nation’s financial reserves have been frozen by Washington. The US regards key figures in Afghanistan’s government as terrorists.
So severe is the situation in the ward that two tiny babies have to share one of the working incubators
Food and other essential supplies are arriving – the UN eased some sanctions just before Christmas - but not enough to satisfy the great need.The economy has collapsed. There is no work and very little money in circulation. The markets are full of food - but many cannot afford to buy.We head across the city to another maze of mud-clogged alleys where 300 families find shelter from the biting wind, though not the gnawing hunger."The Taliban says it has brought us peace, but what good is peace if our children are hungry," says Sahib Khan.
'This hospital is seeing about a hundred cases per month of severe malnutrition,' says Unicef's Melanie Galvin
He’s an educated man. There is a shelf of books, and he was once a school-teacher. But now – like his neighbours – he is out of work and forced to think the unimaginable."If someone will buy my daughter, then I will sell her," he tells us. This is not a marriage arrangement, a common custom for adolescent girls.Sahib’s daughter looks perhaps four-years-old. Is her father serious? We cannot tell. But it is certainly a measure of his absolute misery."There is nothing else I can do," he says. "I can no longer look after her."The United Nations warns that Afghanistan is spiralling towards catastrophe, that a famine might kill more people than decades of war.
98 per cent of people in Afghanistan are not getting enough to eat
While 24.4 million people (more than half the population) face extreme hunger
3.9 million children face severe malnutrition - up from 3.2m in October 2021
9 million people are at risk of famine
More than 13 million children are in desperate need of aid, a surge of 3.4 million in a single year
Melanie Galvin, chief of nutrition at UNICEF Afghanistan, told us: "It’s as severe as any crisis I have ever seen. We are seeing a doubling of cases of severe acute malnutrition. We think this is just the beginning. It is only going to get worse."It is not too late to avoid, but it requires compromise and political will on all sides.But there seems little is on show from Taliban spokesman, Bilal Karimi.
Up to 300 families find shelter from the biting wind in mud-clogged alleys in Kabul
He insists the scale of the crisis is over-played. And it is true, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan inherited huge problems of poverty and corruption from the Western-backed government.But the US, he insists, should release the $9 billion dollars of the country’s assets. "This money belongs to the people of Afghanistan," he tells me. "The people you say are hungry and facing starvation. It is not right to attach conditions."
I suggest they could build Western trust by allowing women unfettered access to education and the workforce."We have never prevented anyone from education or work," he claims."As regards to women, we will give them access, under the framework of Islamic principles."Kabul is not the city it was when the Taliban last ruled.
How likely is it for the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan to improve? ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports live from Kabul
Women walk the street unaccompanied by men. The burqa is relatively rare. Beards are not compulsory, and some men wear Western clothes.The question is whether the Taliban has truly changed, or if, once they win international recognition, they will revert to the old days.At the city’s children’s hospital, they don’t have time to wait for an answer.Amina fights for breath. Her tiny, starved body is unable to fight off infection.Her mother tells us she will stay at her bedside until God decides her daughter’s fate. A doctor says he puts her chance of survival at one in three.
Babies are clinging on to life in the ward
Staff here are receiving salaries, thanks to the ICRC, but they worked for weeks without pay and they lack essential equipment and drugs.Every one of the mothers here has the same story. A husband dead or jobless. There’s no money to feed their children.And women who are pregnant and themselves malnourished deliver premature babies. In the neonatal intensive care unit, there are two tiny children in incubators. Saber is three-days-old. His twin brother Omar has already died.Saber’s eyes are closed, his chest heaves, and it is hard to watch as doctors and nurses do their best to save him.His mother has been warned that Saber’s time in this unhappy land will be measured in days.For 40 years there has been war in Afghanistan. Now, for the most part, there is peace and yet here is another generation born to suffer.
Click here to donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Afghanistan Crisis Appeal, a charity made up of 15 UK aid charities that specialises in humanitarian aid and disaster response. Its current appeal aims to help the 8 million people in Afghanistan who are at risk of famine this winter.