The Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically increased food prices in Afghanistan and hindered efforts to raise funds for struggling Afghans. Recent estimates from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification predict further devastation in the coming months. “Due to lack of funding,” the IPC estimates the percentage of Afghans receiving a two-thirds daily ration of humanitarian aid will drop from 38% to 8% between June and November 2022.
Afghanistan can ill afford a further decline in aid availability. In March, an official from the United Nations warned that the acute hunger affecting 23 million Afghans has “caused untold suffering, reduced the quality, quantity, and diversity of food available, led to high levels of wasting in children, and [had] other harmful impacts on the physical and mental well-being of women, men, and children.”
Donations are paramount and can be especially helpful if directed toward Afghan-led organizations. With low overhead, a record of success, and a drive to scale operations and improve their people's lives, groups such as Aseel and the Azimi Foundation are poised to provide additional life-sustaining food packages and stimulate a struggling Afghan economy with enduring employment opportunities.
Since 2018, Aseel has provided Afghan artisans a forum for selling their handmade products in the international marketplace. After the United States's withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, while aid organizations were “running away” from Afghanistan, Aseel CEO Nasrat Khalid told me his company stepped up to help the Afghan people.
Aseel offers a variety of one-month sustainment packages that allow donors to feed a family of eight for five weeks for just $80 or provide additional items such as baby or first-aid products. Benefactors can earmark their donations for a specific family or donate to families without a patron. Aseel now supports 25,714 families, or around 180,000 Afghans. To facilitate communication between Aseel and its beneficiaries, each family is registered in its Omid system, named after the Persian word for “hope.”
Members of Aseel's Atalan (Pashto for “heroes”) network deliver aid packages to 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Delivery personnel are compensated with phone cards and 200 Afghani, around $2.20, for each delivery they fill. The Atalan network has helped Aseel identify 10,000 additional families in urgent need of aid. Until the company can source donations of around $800,000 per month to support these families, they remain on a waiting list.
Khalid reports his workers are “getting in some ways exhausted,” though they “don’t have another option but to keep pushing.” Khalid is adding transparency to Aseel’s system so donors can receive updates about their packages’ progress, photographs of completed deliveries, and a survey.
A vital member of the evacuation community, Abdul Bari Azimi was once the leader of several large logistics companies that moved supplies throughout Afghanistan for U.S. forces. Since the Taliban’s takeover of his homeland, the Azimi Foundation distributes 2,000 pieces of naan bread to Afghans every day and provides monthly food packages to every Afghan province and to refugees in Pakistan. Azimi has long shied away from marketing his services to protect his beneficiaries who live in hiding to avoid Taliban reprisals.
At the height of operations, Azimi’s employees delivered 2,000 packages each month. After the Ukraine invasion, his orders steadily declined and now sit at fewer than 500 packages per month. Additionally, some of the cash-strapped evacuation organizations that used Azimi’s services owe him tens of thousands of dollars.
Azimi only needs about 10 employees to distribute his monthly orders. Regardless, he pays his 250 employees $160 to $200 every month so they can afford basic necessities. Azimi sells off his trucks to cover this cost. Operating at a loss is difficult, but Azimi told me he is “not doing this for business. [He is] doing this for Afghanistan.”
Aseel and the Azimi Foundation are assiduous about allocating donor funds to aid. At Aseel, 88 cents from each donor dollar go toward food costs. The Azimi Foundation is running in the red to keep Afghans alive. The U.N. World Food Program, which has helped 16 million Afghans in spite of complaints about its distributions, spends only 64 cents of every donor dollar on food aid.
From their homes in the U.S., Khalid and Azimi seek additional funds to support Afghans’ pleas for assistance.
Scaling Aseel’s system “will bring stability,” Khalid said. “And there is nobody who can stop us.”
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.