Sunday, November 28

New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis returns to Afghanistan: ‘It’s life or death on many levels’

In just a few short weeks, the situation in Afghanistan has drastically deteriorated as millions are managing without desperately needed international help, says Christchurch journalist Charlotte Bellis.

No title

Charlotte Bellis says millions of Afghans don’t know where their next meal will come from and children die of malnutrition.
Photo: YouTube screenshot

Bellis is the lead producer for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan and reported on the turmoil in August when the Taliban took over the government and thousands of people tried to flee.

He has dealt with Taliban leaders for a long time and has felt a change in their attitudes since they first ruled the country before being ousted 20 years ago.

He had to leave the country in mid-September because the network feared for his safety, and Bellis noted on Twitter that the Taliban were detaining and beating journalists trying to cover the protests.

Now she has returned and told Sunday Morning that she was not concerned for her safety.

“The situation here is quite dire and there are still many stories to tell and I feel involved in what is happening here and I also love the country. It is a beautiful place to be with amazing people and I really like being here.”

However, the country faces an uncertain future with its population suffering more than ever now that international aid has been cut off.

This week, the United Nations warned that Afghanistan is emerging as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and Bellis agrees.

“The Taliban took power about two months ago and I can’t believe how quickly everything has deteriorated.

“People cannot find food, there is no money, they cannot pay for things, employers cannot pay their workers because there is no cash, they cannot even get money from ATMs.”

Millions of jobs have disappeared, half the population does not know where their next meal will come from and children are already dying of malnutrition, Bellis said.

All aid agencies are asking the world to listen.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - OCTOBER 28: Children, on the brink of death due to hunger, receive medical treatment at Mir Veys Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan on October 28, 2021.

Children suffering from malnutrition are being treated at a hospital in Kandahar.
Photo: AFP

23 million need urgent help

He is about to leave with the UN Refugee Agency, whose teams are organizing an aid distribution as temperatures drop to 2 ° C overnight as winter approaches. They are handing out blankets, food and some cash to thousands of needy people in the Kabul camps.

“But it is a band-aid. There is no way they can reach the number of people they need; there are like 23 million people who need that kind of assistance.”

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 17: A view from the Afghan capital Kabul on September 17, 2021 after the Taliban takeover.  Since the Taliban took over Kabul last month, people have tried to sell their wares along the streets of Kabul.

The men try to sell some household items on a Kabul street for much needed money.
Photo: AFP

Neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran are very concerned, in part because they fear a large influx of refugees. They have closed the borders to try to keep them out.

The process of getting money and food into people’s hands has been broken, he said, and it is largely due to US sanctions.

Three-quarters of the country had foreign donations before the Taliban took power and that has been exhausted because no country is recognizing the Taliban’s legitimacy to rule.

He has spoken with a senior Taliban official who said that in recent meetings between the Taliban and the United States in Doha, the Americans would not tell the Taliban what policies they needed to enact to unfreeze billions of dollars in funding.

“Them [the Americans] they are gambling with the lives of millions of people. “

She believes that some Taliban leaders are pragmatic and would be willing to accept high school girls being educated, but are concerned that they will alienate their conservative base.

In general, girls of primary school age can attend their lessons, but the problem is at the secondary school level.

“If you’re a high school girl in Kabul it’s horrible, sitting around thinking how this happened. It’s really frustrating and really frustrating for everyone to see and say that this doesn’t make sense.”

Schoolchildren walk as they return home after attending school along a road in the village of Sperwan in the Panjwai district on October 24, 2021.

Girls walk home from their primary school in the village of Sperwan in Afghanistan’s Panjwai district.
Photo: AFP

Bellis said that although she feels safe at the moment, the main problem is the terrorist group ISIS-K, which has made threats against the hotel where she is staying.

The Taliban have said they will protect guests and have posted dozens of additional guards outside.

ISIS-K is believed to only number between 1,200 and 1,500, yet they are a potent force with their random attacks, such as beheading members of the Taliban, whom they hate.

She believes that the Taliban’s biggest concern is that ISIS will attract its most fundamentalist members.

It is also believed that ISIS is trying to attract recruits who would be trained as fighters and would receive $ 400 a month, which is a substantial amount of money in Afghanistan.

Bellis said she feels guilty about staying in a hotel with the scale of poverty and deprivation she is witnessing.

“Right outside the door, people are desperate.”

Yesterday she visited a major maternity hospital in Kabul and the only medicine available for women giving birth was paracetamol.

“Imagine going into labor and thinking, okay, if something goes wrong, I have acetaminophen. It’s life or death on so many levels.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *