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Hunger and fear permeate Kabul months after Taliban's return to power

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Since the Taliban return to power, the Afghan capital, Kabul, has changed dramatically. Once a dynamic city - it's now ruled by hunger and, for many, by fear. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Khalida is a schoolteacher. Since the Taliban took over, she's had to change her ways. She speaks to us by phone and says jeans are out, and now she dons a headscarf that drapes over her.

KHALIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Now she walks to work, always, because it's difficult to get a ride.

KHALIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says nervous bus drivers worry that ferrying a woman without a male guardian will get them in trouble with the Taliban. Khalida requests we only use her first name because she doesn't want to be identified. The Taliban pushed most women out of their jobs after they seized power. Still, she's only been paid for two months' work since then. That's because the U.S. froze $7 billion worth of Afghanistan's assets, and aid to the government has all but dried up. Khalida says, "we've got food but no power."

KHALIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: "And if it's like this for us," she says, "imagine what it's like for the others."

Many Afghans have always struggled to get by, but not like this. The U.N. reports the number of people experiencing acute hunger, which is a step away from starvation, has nearly doubled after the takeover.

ANITA DULLARD: The situation's pretty dire, to be honest.

HADID: Anita Dullard is a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

DULLARD: Doctors and nurses, teachers have been showing up to work for months without a salary and whose own savings and means of supporting themselves are rapidly dwindling, if not - have come to an end.

HADID: And it's unraveled a whole web of livelihoods in this urban center. Mohammad has one name, like many Afghans. He speaks to NPR producer Fazelminallah Qazizai.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He waits by the roadside. He's hoping somebody, anybody, will pick him up for a day's work. That hasn't happened in weeks. He says his wife hustles for small change by cracking open the woody shells of almonds for shoppers in a Kabul bazaar.

MOHAMMAD: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She takes home the almond shells. It's what they burn for warmth.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: The hungriest end up vying for food donations, like Shabir Shah. He's waiting for his turn at a World Food Programme distribution spot. Shah says none of his brothers can find work. For weeks, they've been so hungry they just stay home.

SHABIR SHAH: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He says, "we eat when we receive help."

SHAH: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Abdul Haq Hamad of the Ministry of Culture and Information insists Afghanistan is getting back on its feet. He says Afghan people want the Taliban to rule.

ABDUL HAQ HAMAD: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: But for others, hardship comes alongside fear. Men and women critical of the Taliban disappear for weeks at a time. And teenage girls are still waiting to return to school, like Shukria Hussaini. She's 18. She survived a horrific attack in Kabul last May. This is a report from ABC Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Bags and books were scattered across the entrance to a high school. The powerful car bomb killed dozens of teenage girls who had just finished class.

HADID: That was Hussaini's school. And despite the trauma, Hussaini returned when the school reopened. But the Taliban shut it down after they assumed government. She speaks to us in a bakery.

SHUKRIA HUSSAINI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says she really misses seeing her girlfriends on lunch breaks. The Taliban says girls' high schools will open later this month, once they can ensure they're strictly segregated. They've already opened the universities. There, female students have to cover up. They no longer wear bright clothes or makeup. And residents say it's as if the color has been robbed from them and the city. Diaa Hadid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HINDS' "SOLAR GAP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.