Kabul's street sellers fear slim pickings for Eid as floods wash away custom

Profits halved as bad weather keeps Afghan capital's residents indoors

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Back-to-back days of rain, thunder and hailstorms have caused damage to homes and livelihoods in Afghanistan, further compounding economic worries caused by the Taliban takeover and withdrawal of international funding.

The storms began on April 15, prompting the Meteorological Department to issue weather warnings for nearly two dozen provinces in the east, north and centre of the country.

The main road leading from the provincial capitals of Nangarhar and Kunar province was shut for several hours on Tuesday due to flooding.

International NGOs said they were concerned the wet weather could bring a locust infestation, endangering the nation's food supplies.

In the capital Kabul, the downpour once more exposed the country's poorly built infrastructure as entire streets were filled with the output of overflowing sewers and clogged waterways.

The UN estimates 28.3 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian and protection assistance this year - around two-thirds of the population.

Flooding dampens Eid

Street sellers in the Cinema Pamir and Kabul River neighbourhoods said the flooded streets and cold weather had taken their toll on daily earnings during Ramadan.

They said the overflowing water was keeping customers away in the late hours of the day, when they would usually be making pre-iftar purchases. Some said their daily profits had halved over the past four days.

Sadiq, who would only provide his first name, sells fruit on a cart near the city’s Shah-e Do Shamshira Mosque and shrine. He says being surrounded by hills and flanked by two main roads leading to the west and central parts of the city has hurt his business.

“When it rains, the water comes flowing down from the hillsides and reaches street level, with all of the dirt and filth that comes from the households,” he said.

Street vendors carts on waterlogged street on a rainy day in Kabul. Mahab Azizi for The National

Sadiq, who has been working in the area for seven years, says flooding is a frequent problem.

“Just behind us, the water will reach your knees when it rains, so no one wants to risk traversing through that dirty water,” he said, as a group of young girls inquired about the price of his goods. Sadiq says in the last few days he’s gone from making up to 2,000 Afghanis, about $23, a day, to less than half of that.

Sadiq’s two brothers also sell fruit and vegetables on nearby carts, closer to the main market. For them the flooding heaps misery on an already difficult time for their businesses.

“All of our sales were already down due to the lack of work but this week it’s even lower,” Sadiq said, referring to the reported loss of at least 700,000 jobs since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021.

The fact that the slowdown has come in the last week of Ramadan has caused worry in Sadiq’s family that they may not be able to buy sweets, dried fruit and new clothes for the coming Eid Al Fitr holiday.

They are not the only ones.

Abdul Hamid sells plums in the Cinema Park area, near the river and the Shah-e Do Shamshira Mosque. The market is mix of carts and bricks-and-mortar shops. He also said his business had suffered in the past week.

He used to make about 500 Afghanis a day in sales, about $6, but now he says he is lucky if he can clear $2. With seven other people in his household, Abdul Hamid says even a slump of a few days can take its toll.

“I’m the only one in my family who brings home some money, but when it gets cold no one wants to venture outside,” he said. As he was speaking to The National, a group of children tried to cross the flooded street behind him.

He pointed to a young man riding his bike through the deluged street and said: “Look behind you, this whole road is covered in water, we can’t even take one step back without fear of being drenched.”

Updated: April 20, 2023, 9:43 AM