Bamyan cave dwellers in health crisis
Most of the 30 families which Pajhwok spoke to complained about the damp and the cold in the caves and the morning haze which contributes to their problems.
Because most live below the poverty line, they do not have enough money to buy mattresses or carpets, so are forced to sit on the damp ground and lean on damp walls.
They spend as much time as possible outside in the sun shine and only go back into their caves when the sun has gone in.
There are about 3,000 caves around the destroyed Buddha sculptures, which were lived in around the second century by followers of Buddhism. Now, they are full of homeless people from Bamyan and other provinces.
Each cave is a different size and shape. The smallest is 3 metres long by 2 metres wide while the largest is 15 metres wide by 15 metres long. Some caves are circular, while others are square, rectangular and dome shaped.
Many moved into the caves two decades ago, to escape the fighting during the civil war and then again to escape the Taliban. Others have lost their homes, or returned from Pakistan or Iran where they were refugees.
Children suffer from malnutrition are look weak and frail.
Mohammad Asif, 38, a cave dweller, said he and his wife have arthritic pains in their hands, legs and waist and that their children suffer from coughs.
Asif returned from Pakistan five years ago. He does not have anything in his cave except an old plastic rug and a mattress. While leaning against the damp wall he explained that in the winter the pain in his legs and back gets worse than in the summer.
Mohammad Asif’s wife sits next to her husband besides an unlit oven because the family cannot afford firewood. She cradled her 5-year-old daughter in her arms, who is suffering from a fever and cough.
The family cannot afford to take their daughter to see a doctor. The doctor charges 100 afghanis ($2.2) and would recommend medicine which they cannot afford, so instead they go to the chemist and buy cheaper medicine.
“We trust in God. We buy cheap medicine and we don’t know whether it will cure our child or not,” the mother said.
Mohammad Hassan, another cave dweller, said he was tired of his life because he does not have food to eat or money to buy anything else.
“I have a very miserable life and my children suffer from the cold weather in the cave.”
He said he was also sick but has not been able to afford to buy any new medicine.
The cave dwellers say they should have a doctor to look after them.
Dr. Mehr Ali Hassani, acting head of Bamyan public health department, said there were mobile health teams assigned to districts where residents could not reach a central health clinic. But for the cave dwellers, as they lived in the provincial capital, Bamyan city, they should go to Bamyan hospitals, he said.
“This is not only a problem of the cave dwellers, but regular people who live in houses also suffer from coughs during the cold weather,” Hassani said.
He said one reason for the increase in diseases and other ailments was the cold weather and that all the family members live in one room which allows germs to spread.
Mohammad Ishaq Poya, head of Bamyan Red Crescent Society, said he was aware that people living in the caves were suffering, but the organization could not do anything until it was given permission by the headquarters in Kabul.
Mohammad Reza Rafat, head of natural disaster management committee of Bamyan province, said they had distributed winter clothes and kitchen tools for eligible families last month.
He said the committee worked with governmental administrations and donor organizations. If a decision was made to help the cave dwellers, their committee has wheat ready to distribute, he said.
Bamyan is a mountainous province, located 200 kilometres from Kabul, and farming land is limited. The major product is the potato, most of which is exported to other provinces. There is little other work as the province does not have any factories or industry. Most of the cave dwellers try to get work as day labourers, but there is a lot of competition.
“Every morning while it is still dark I head to the bazaar to help unload the trucks, but only one or two days a week do I find any work,” said Mohammad Akbar.
There is always a crowd of laborers who swarm over the trucks as they bring in goods from Kabul to Bamyan, hoping to be picked to do the unloading.
Akbar said he was tired of the current situation. He had not been able to even put a fire in his cave so he and his children had to live in the cold.
According to a 2009 survey by the Afghanistan Independent Human Right Commission, 75 percent of the cave residents have been there for the 10 years, six percent have been there more than 10 years and 19 percent are new.
The survey also showed that 71 percent had been displaced by the Taliban, food insecurity and poverty.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.