Up until the fall of the Taliban, and for a short time thereafter, begging was very common in Afghanistan’s cities and towns. Mainly women, but disabled men and children also. Then, for several years, the numbers of people by roadside, hands held out in supplication, seemed to drop off. The relative state of the economy had something to do with it. More jobs, more money, more being spent, more people giving zakat, more waste, just more.
There has been a change since we left here in 2012. It is very visible, and it is hard to look at. I would rather look away. Entire families are camped out at corners, in the middle of the roads, tapping on car windows. I haven’t seen so many people begging for years – since the harsh times of the Taliban. Troops have pulled out, and for every soldier, there was probably three or four Afghans that found employment: fixers, translators, drivers, cooks, cleaners, logistics, guards. Aid budgets have been cut, and the same metric applies. Less money is flying around. Fewer jobs, less spending, leaner times. Fine for those have have some kind of padding, but for the vulnerable, there is no buffer.
And the proof of all that is on the streets. There is still plenty of money – four and five storey residences are being built all over the place – but that money is moving in much tighter circles, and the vast majority of urban poor are locked out.
I suspect most people knew those good times were an aberration. That the economy resets is not a bad thing, in the long term, at a macro-level. No country can continue to be subjected to so much careless money; it would end in chaos or revolution. But at the human level, Afghanistan is heading for much harder times. As the crutches are removed, it will be dreadful for poor and vulnerable people in the cities.