Herat Jewelers Struggle to Make Ends Meet Amidst Widespread Poverty

The collapse of the former republic government in Afghanistan has had a significant impact on the political, economic and social sectors. The consequences of the regime change have been felt most acutely by the Afghan people. Since August 15, 2021, the country has been unable to maintain the peace and stability it had previously enjoyed. Under the Taliban’s rule, many government employees have been laid off, including both male and female experts and professionals who had worked in various departments of the former government for many years.

The majority of Afghans are living in poverty due to unemployment and inconsistent incomes. People who used to purchase goods for their homes are now having to sell them in order to prevent starvation or flee Afghanistan. Goldsmiths in Herat province report that the gold market has been stagnant for two years, as customers are more likely to sell gold than buy it.

Ahmad Shoaib Sudais, a jeweler on Lilami Road in Herat province, has stated that he has been in business there for almost three decades. In an interview with Hasht-e-Subh, he said that the jewelry market has deteriorated since the fall of the former government, and no one has come to his stores to purchase gold in recent weeks. “I haven’t had a customer in my shop for the past two weeks. In my 30 years of running this store, I have never seen such a dire situation,” Sudais said.

Ahmad Shoaib expressed his concern about the current state of the jewelry industry, noting that jewelers are unable to cover their store expenses. He warned that if the situation does not improve, he will have to end his 30-year career. “The only issue is that we can no longer cover our costs, and sometimes we have to use the money we have been saving for years to pay the shop’s expenses. We need to be able to cover the expenses in this store. The jewelry industry is in a terrible state. If there are no improvements in the market in the coming months, I will have to leave this business,” he said.

Jewelers report that despite the downturn in the jewelry market, many customers still come to their stores to sell their jewelry. Feraidoon, another jeweler on the same road, reported that up to 10 customers come into his store each day to sell their jewelry. He attributed this to poverty and irregular income, as people are willing to sell their jewelry at low prices. “I can see people who visit the shop to sell their jewelry,” he said. “I’ve seen their purchase documents, and they usually resell it within two years of the original purchase. Most buyers also state that they stopped selling jewelry due to economic pressure and a decrease in the jewelry markets.”

The sale of jewelry in Herat markets is being driven by financial hardship, a lack of stable income, and unemployment. Those who sell their jewelry in the jewelry stores in Herat province often cite the joblessness of family members and their own dire economic situation as the reasons for their decision.

Laila, a resident of Herat province, has been forced to sell her jewelry in the local jewelry market due to economic pressures. Her husband lost his job when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan two years ago, and they have been unemployed ever since. All of their savings have been spent, leaving them with no other option but to sell their jewelry or home goods. Laila explained, “My husband worked as a lawyer. He lost his job when the Taliban arrived, and he hasn’t found another one in almost two years. During these two years of unemployment, all of our financial resources—cash and capital—were spent. Even though my spouse applied for jobs in various organizations, no one has hired him. So, I must now sell my jewelry and flee.”

Laila stated that she had sold her jewelry to cover the costs of her trip, which suggests that she had plans to go to Iran. Her husband, who used to be a lawyer, decided to leave Afghanistan as well, as all of the judges and lawyers working for the former government had been discharged by the Taliban. Laila said, “Even though my husband meets the requirements for employment in organizations that advertise their vacancies, they do not hire him due to his experience as a part of the courts during the republic. We are unable to remain in Afghanistan since my husband is exhausted by joblessness.”

Jewelers have stated that many customers sell their jewelry in order to make ends meet and combat hunger. Zubaida is one of many women who have come to the market to sell their jewelry. She explained that she had to do so in order to cover her family’s electricity bill, as her husband and son have been unemployed for the past year. She further stated that, due to the lack of money, there was not enough food in the house, and that she had to sell her gold in order to provide for her family for a few days. “My husband and son have been out of work for a year. On top of the 10,000 AFN electricity bill, we had no bread, oil, or rice at home. I had to sell my gold so that we could survive for a few days,” Zubaida said.

Economists have suggested that unemployment and a lack of consistent income are the primary reasons for the sale of women’s jewelry in Herat. It is believed that people are selling their possessions in order to escape poverty.

An anonymous professor from the Faculty of Economics at Herat University told Hasht-e-Subh that the vast majority of families have had to use up their savings for several years due to poverty. He added that those without savings have had to resort to selling household items and even their own bodies in order to make ends meet. The academic researcher went on to say that since the Taliban took power, many people have lost their jobs and the value of the currency has decreased, leading those with jewelry, expensive items, and healthy body parts to sell them out of desperation. The professor warned that the current economic situation in Afghanistan is dire and could lead to disaster if it persists.

The Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan has caused a dramatic increase in poverty, leading many families to sell their household items and jewelry in order to survive. This has resulted in food and fuel shortages, with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reporting that families in Afghanistan are struggling to make ends meet. OCHA’s Afghanistan office has found that the average indebtedness of Afghan families has risen from $114 to $687 between 2019 and 2022. OCHA has warned that the economic situation in Afghanistan should not be overlooked.

UN humanitarian agencies have warned of the potential for extreme hunger in Afghanistan, with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs not being the only one to express concern about the country’s widespread poverty. They have stated that without a change in the current situation, the hunger crisis will not be resolved. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Richard Bennett’s most recent report identified unemployment and poverty as two primary factors driving mass migration.

The Taliban have yet to announce a plan to address poverty in Afghanistan, as unemployment has risen in the past year. Ramez Alakbarov, the UNAMA deputy special representative for Afghanistan, reported that approximately 700,000 jobs have been lost in the country over the last 18 months, most of which were in the logistics and services sectors related to the military and civil sectors. The cessation of international projects has been identified as the main cause of the rise in unemployment, though the Taliban’s Ministry of Economy has not confirmed the loss of 700,000 jobs.