Hundreds of men, high on heroin, opium and methamphetamine, were scattered across the hillside overlooking Kabul.some in tents, others lying on the ground. The dogs prowled because sometimes they give them drugs, and there were corpses of overdosed dogs in the trash. Here too men slip, silent and alone, down the line from oblivion and despair to death.
“There is a dead man next to you”someone told me as I made my way between them, taking photos. “We have buried someone there before”said another below.
A man lay face down in the mud, motionless. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was alive. He turned his head slightly, barely half out of the mud, and whispered yes.
“You are dying”I told. “Try to survive”.
“It’s okay”he said, his voice exhausted. “It’s okay to die.”
He raised his body a little. I gave him some water and someone gave him a glass pipe with heroin.. Smoking it gave him some energy. She said her name was Dawood. He had lost a leg to a mine a decade ago during the war; after that he couldn’t work, and his life fell apart. She turned to drugs to escape.
Drug addiction has long been a problem in Afghanistanthe world’s largest producer of opium Y heroin and now a major source of methamphetamine. The ranks of addicts have been fed by the persistent poverty and by decades of war that left few families unhealed.
It seems that the situation has only worsened since the country’s economy collapsed after the Taliban took power in August of last year and the consequent cessation of international funding. Families who were previously able to get by have been deprived of their livelihoods, leaving many barely able to afford to eat. Millions of people have joined the ranks of the impoverished.
The growing number of addicts found around Kabulliving in parks and sewers, under bridges, on open hillsides.
A 2015 UN study estimated that up to 2.3 million people had used drugs that year, which would have about 5% of the population at that moment. Now, seven years later, the figure is unknown, but it is believed that has only increasedsaid the head of the Drug Demand Reduction Department, Dr. Zalmel, who like many Afghans only goes by one name.
the talibanwho took power almost a year ago, have launched an aggressive campaign to eradicate opium poppy cultivation. At the same time, they have inherited the policy of the ousted government, backed by the international community, of rounding up addicts and forcing them into camps.
On two nights this summer, Taliban fighters raided two areas where addicts gather: one on the hillside and one under a bridge. Total, brought together about 1,500 people, according to the officials in charge of registering them. They were put into trucks and cars and taken to the Avicenna Drug Treatment Medical Hospitala former US military base that in 2016 was converted into a drug treatment center.
It is the largest of a series of drug treatment camps around Kabul. Over there, addicts are shaved and kept in barracks for 45 days.They do not receive any treatment or medication as they pass through abstinence syndrome. Since the Taliban seized power, the international funding on which the Afghan government depended has been cutso the camp barely has enough funds to feed its inpatients.
But the camps do little to end addiction.
A week after the raids, I went back to both places, and both were again packed with hundreds of people.
On the hillside, I saw a man who was clearly not an addict. In the dark, he wandered among the men, shining a dim flashlight on each one. looking for his brother, who became addicted years ago and left home. He goes from one place to another, through the underworld of Kabul. “I hope I can find it one day”He says.
At the site under the bridge, the stench of sewage and garbage was overwhelming. One man, Nazer, in his 30s, seemed to be respected among his fellow addicts; he broke up fights between them and negotiated disputes.
He told me that he spends most of his days here, under the bridge, but that he goes home from time to time. Addiction has spread throughout his familysaid.
When I expressed my surprise that the lair under the bridge had filled again, Nazir smiled. “It is normal”said. “Every day there are more… it never ends”.
(By EBRAHIM NOROOZI, Associated Press)
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