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Afghanistan: Kabul neighborhood struggles to regroup after bombing

In the corner of a Kabul neighborhood where almost every family lost someone in an early December bombing, the psychological and economic effects are far-reaching.

By Correspondent / December 22, 2011

A vegetable seller stands over his goods in a Kabul neighborhood where 50 people from just 15 families were killed or injured when a suicide bomber killed more than 80 people and injured scores at an Ashura celebration in Kabul on Dec. 6.

Tom A. Peter

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Kabul, Afghanistan

Before a bomb blast killed his son and injured three of his daughters, hospitalizing two of them, life was anything but easy for Ahmad Shah. Like many in his poor Kabul neighborhood, he eked out enough to survive by pulling a rickshaw-like cart made of scrap wood. Merchants who either had a small load or couldn’t afford a truck hired Mr. Shah to drag their goods across town on his cart. 

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Shah made enough to support his family’s day-to-day needs, but had to take out loans from microfinance organizations for heating supplies and food during the winter. He had hoped to work off his debt before the spring, but his careful plans crumbled when a suicide bomber detonated himself at religious Ashura festival on Dec. 6, killing more than 80 people, injuring scores, and taking a catastrophic toll on his family.

“I lost my son and I need to take care of my injured daughters. Now I need to borrow money from friends and family to care for them. It will take a long time to pay my debts. It will make my life even more horrible,” says Shah. “Why couldn’t all of us die together so we could have peace and not have these things to make us worry?”

Although only two weeks have passed since the Ashura bombing, it has long faded from the headlines as Afghan news moves on to other macabre events and political developments. Still, the story of those affected by the bombing, one of the largest single-incident losses in recent Afghan history, provides a window into the challenges that face Afghan society as it works to rebuild amid deep-seeded psychological trauma and its far-reaching effects.

After more than 30 years of war, it’s difficult to find an Afghan untouched by violence. Despite persistent NATO statements that the situation is improving, civilian causalities have steadily increased every year since the US-led war began more than a decade ago. In the first half of this year alone, 3,606 Afghan civilians were killed or injured. According to a United Nations report, insurgent attacks caused 80 percent of the 1,462 civilian deaths here.

“War and conflict in Afghanistan have dragged on for more than three decades and caused many Afghans psychological trauma,” says Azizudin Himt, the head of the Afghanistan Psychologists Association. “There is not any survey or census about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but we have many people who suffer from it in this country.”

Dr. Himt adds that a number of people who suffer from trauma struggle to take an interest in their work and move their life forward, a serious problem for a nation trying to put itself together again after nearly a third of a century at war. Additionally, Afghanistan lacks the ability to adequately treat those suffering from psychological problems induced by trauma such as PTSD.

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