For all the billions of dollars in foreign aid that have poured into Afghanistan over the past 12 years, Sajeda, her head-to-toe burqa covered in dust, sobs that the world has forgotten the poorest of the poor in the largely untroubled north of the country.
A deadly landslide last week exposed the extreme poverty in the remote mountainous area and also highlighted one of the paradoxes of Western aid: the northern region which supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 has got significantly less help than the south and east, home of the Taliban militants.
Over the past decade, much of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) funding has been spent in the strongholds of the insurgents as part of Washington’s strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local population.
“We are the poorest and most unfortunate people of this country and no one pays attention to us. We are forgotten,” said Sajeda, who lost 12 members of her family in the landslide that killed hundreds in northern Badakhshan province.
Pointing to simple mud-brick homes that escaped the landslide in the villaage of Aab Bareek, the 33-year-old screams: “Look at those houses. Are those for the living?”
Time is running out for the mostly Tajik and Uzbek people of Badakhshan, home to the Northern Alliance which helped US forces drive the Taliban from power, to tap international aid. As Western forces wind down operations in Afghanistan, foreign donors are also pulling back.
At the start of the year, US lawmakers halved civilian aid for Afghanistan, reflecting growing reluctance in Congress to continue generous aid levels there, concerns about waste and fraud, and frustration with the Afghan government itself. Other foreign donors are expected to make similar cuts.
Over the past decade, a disproportionate share of US aid, which makes about two-thirds of all development assistance in Afghanistan, has ended up in the southern provinces where it has been used to achieve political and military objectives.
A US official said that between 2009-14 more than 70 percent of USAID spending, amounting to about $4.7 billion, went to the south and east. USAID, the lead agency for development assistance, declined immediate comment.