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A family struggles to survive in Afghanistan

Afghanistan, July 18, 2001

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    Photo: Scott Heidler/Mercy Corps. Photo:

Mullah Hatem is 75 years old. Two months ago he was forced to leave his home in Ghor Province and take his family further south in search of food and water. He is sick and cannot afford to feed his family, let alone visit a doctor. His family has eaten nothing but bread and tea for the past seven months. The younger children have little energy and show no interest in playing as they sit, lethargic, beside their new home, a small one-room hay barn belonging to a local farmer.

Mullah Hatem was the religious leader in his home village in Ghor Province in central Afghanistan. Village members used to give Mullah Hatem food in return for his services as Mullah. One year ago, as the worst drought in living memory killed the orchards and wheat crop, the villagers stopped providing the Mullah with food - many could not even feed their own families. To survive, Mullah Hatem was forced to borrow money at exorbitant interest from local traders. As it became clear that he would not be able to survive in the village without going further into untenable debt, Mullah Hatem borrowed enough money to pay for the transport of his family - south in search of food and water.

He was allowed to borrow the final installment of money on the condition that his eldest son remained behind, as collateral on the outstanding debt. With no other choice, Mullah Hatem handed his grown son to another man, indefinitely as guarantee for the debt. Finding a way to feed the family is proving almost impossible, freeing the elder son is not a realistic option. The younger son, the only able bodied man remaining with the family, searches in vain, like thousands of other young men for work to feed his family.