Afghanistan: Voices of Mothers

As winter continues to bring cold and snow, millions of Afghan families face a severe hunger crisis.

Winter is the most dangerous season for hunger in Afghanistan, and this winter is especially grim. With access to food and other necessities severely limited, an estimated 8.7 million Afghans are on the brink of famine. According to the United Nations, one million children currently face malnutrition. 

In Daykundi province, Action Against Hunger provides nutrition and health services in remote areas where people are not able to reach health facilities. Our ten mobile teams travel around villages of this central region screening mothers, pregnant women, and children for malnutrition and visit families on a bi-weekly basis to monitor their health and provide treatment for malnutrition and other illnesses. Action Against Hunger also supports families with cash assistance to help them buy food and hygiene supplies. 

Recently, five mothers living in Daykundi told us of their struggles – about how hard it is to care for themselves and their children with so little resources. They shared their stories and their hopes for the future with us.  

*Names have been changed to protect identities. 

Bibi Afia 

Photo: Ghulam Reza Nazari
Disasters Emergency Committee / Arete
Afghanistan

Bibi Afia* lives with her husband and three children – seven-month-old Darya, Gita, and Marwan - in Daykundi province, home to many displaced families who lack access to basic services.  

“When I was pregnant, I had pain in my foot, in my shoulders, back, and in my head. I couldn't feel my feet. I have a psychological illness and stomach problems as well. There were no medicines or clinics. There was no one to help me.  

When the fighting started, the roads were blocked, and there was no one who could take me [to the clinic]…I was scared that I would die. I worried how it will end and what will happen to me. When the babies are born, they are hungry, and mothers can’t breastfeed. It was the same with my child as well.  

My child and I do not have any food. We eat once a day. There are days when we are completely hungry. Sometimes, we don't [eat at all] for one or two days. My girl was very thin. She didn't develop. I also didn't have [breast] milk and was sick myself. Now the supplement I receive helps her.” 

Bibi’s youngest child, Darya, was very sick and weak. Bibi brought her to Action Against Hunger’s mobile health and nutrition team, who diagnosed both mother and daughter with malnutrition.  

Darya was admitted into the malnutrition treatment program at the mobile clinic, located just a 10-minute walk from her village. As she took her course of therapeutic food, she began to regain her strength – she stopped crying as frequently and started sleeping better. Bibi felt like she could relax as she watched her daughter recovering.  

Farnaz 

Photo: Ghulam Reza Nazari
Disasters Emergency Committee / Arete
Afghanistan

Farnaz* lives with her husband Osman and their three children – 8-month-old Ghazal, Abdul-Haq, and Farah. They have another child on the way. 

“During my pregnancy I had pain in my hands and feet. I felt weak all the time. I also suffered from pain in my side and back. The nearest health center is three hours away by foot. Access to medical care is difficult.  

I went to the doctor and was told to eat well because of my anemia. They told me that both I and my unborn child are weak. We were both malnourished. We do not have enough food.  

The doctor told me to eat four meals a day – nutritious food like peas, beans, lentils, and fruits. They gave me medicine for anemia.  I was scared during my pregnancy because I was always sick with pain in my body. All the women who are living in this area have the same concerns. We face many problems. We can’t go to the hospital easily. I gave birth in my house. I have [breast] milk but it is not sufficient. 

The hopes I have for my child’s future are that they should become literate and be a good person. That is all.” 

Despite suffering from malnutrition, when Farnaz visited her nearest health facility, they were unable to help her and could only give her iron and folic acid supplements to try and treat her anemia.  

With support from Action Against Hunger, she is now receiving food aid cards so she can buy vital supplies.  “Now we can access food as I have the card,” she says. Our mobile teams travel around villages, including Farnaz’s, to screen and treat mothers, pregnant women, and children for malnutrition.  

Laila 

Photo: Ghulam Reza Nazari
Disasters Emergency Committee / Arete
Afghanistan

Laila* lives with her husband and five children in Daykundi province. Her youngest child is 11-month-old Jalil. 

“It is natural for people to be concerned during pregnancy. We are all concerned. I went to a health clinic a few times but just received a strip of tablets. They haven't given me any support. Other organizations haven't helped us either. I only got some flour when my daughter was born because I didn't have [breast] milk. My daughter was hungry all the time.  

I have big hopes for my family and children. I hope that our children can provide for us. I pray that my children grow up healthy, and they study.” 

Laila, like many mothers in the area, travelled to her local health center for help when she noticed herself getting weaker during her pregnancy. Unfortunately, many medical centers are out of stock of medicines and Laila was turned away. Families have to make the journey to their nearby doctors regularly to check whether they have received new supplies.  

Nadia 

Photo: Ghulam Reza Nazari
Disasters Emergency Committee / Arete
Afghanistan

Nadia* lives with her husband Yaseen and five children, with the youngest just two months old.  

“When I was pregnant, it was very difficult. I was weak and so was my child. We couldn't afford to buy anything and eat so that our newborn would come healthy into this world.  

I did not get the benefit of health services. The clinic is very far, and we couldn't reach there. There was no car available, and the road was also not good. At times, the doctors told us that there is no medicine. Just one organization [Action Against Hunger] came and gave us some flour, that is it. We haven’t got anything else.  

Both me and my child were very weak. We do not have enough food - just a bit of rice, wheat, and flour, nothing else. Pregnant women here face the risk of death, and they face many other risks. They do a lot of work, and they have no choice because there is no one else to work. 

In the future, I hope my children grow up, study, and help people. I don't want them to be like us.” 

The family struggles to access nutritious food, and Nadia felt herself becoming weaker. She visited her local health center, but it had run out of medicine and she was turned away. 

Our mobile health and nutrition teams help to bridge the health gap in Nadia’s province, and she turned to them for help. They screened Nadia and quickly diagnosed her with malnutrition. She was given therapeutic food and nutritious “super cereals” to help her build her nutrition levels and gain weight. She is now registered with the team who check her progress every time they visit her village.   

Mahnaz 

Photo: Ghulam Reza Nazari
Disasters Emergency Committee / Arete
Afghanistan

Mahnaz* lives with her husband and five children. Her youngest, Maimana, is 13 months old. 

“During my pregnancy I felt dizzy, and my whole body would start shaking. I then walked 2-2.5 hours on foot to get to a doctor. We were very concerned during my pregnancy about what will happen; will I reach the doctor in time or not? All the women here have the same concerns. Some manage to reach [a clinic] and some don't.  

We do not have enough food. We have very little. My hopes are that I have a good family, that I can reach to the clinic and the doctor in time so that my child is safe.” 

When she began to feel weak during her pregnancy, Mahnaz had no luck finding medicine at her nearest health center, but was able to get care from Action Against Hunger’s Mobile Health and Nutrition team. They diagnosed her and her children with malnutrition and admitted one of her children with a more severe case to receive regular treatment at the mobile clinic ten minutes from their home. Action Against Hunger is also providing Mahnaz and her children with support so they can access nutritious food.  

Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocates for change, and reaches 26 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.