They have survived for a long time, but since the Taliban conquered the Bamiyan Valley, the rural Afghans living in its mountain caves have been weakened by hunger and fear.
Known as one of the most beautiful regions of Afghanistan, it is home to hundreds of families living in remote, central valley caves that were carved on top of sandstone by Buddhist monks in the 5th century.
The community is among the poorest in the country, and the Taliban’s occupation in August exacerbated their plight, cutting off international aid, rising food prices and rising unemployment.
They live a few kilometers away from where the famous giant of the valley, the statue of the ancient Buddha, stood, when they were moved by this group when they were last in power 20 years ago.
Fatima said her cave was partially collapsed during heavy rains a year and a half ago, drowning a 55-year-old man and three members of his family in a small cave measuring just six square meters (square5 square feet).
“We will not eat tonight. And winter is almost here. We have nothing to keep warm, ”he said, adding that his face was partially covered in a black veil.
“We live in misery and misfortune.”
The day laborers and porters no longer brought home the little money they had paid to feed themselves.
Only potato harvesting continues – a single crop that can be grown in the area at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet).
“I go to the Bamiyan market every morning, but I come back with nothing,” said Mahram, a 422-year-old bricklayer.
“When there was work, I used to earn 300 afghanis (3.75) per day.”
Now the family survives by sending their children to help cut the potatoes.
“Farmers give something in exchange for their wages,” says Mahram. “We have so much with a little bread.”
“But in 10 days, the harvest will be over, and we will be really hungry. People will die. ”
Like most people living in the region, the families are Hazaras, a predominantly Shia ethnic minority who have been marginalized and persecuted in Afghanistan for centuries.
The victory of the Taliban, which is made up of Sunni extremists who see the community as hostile, has caused panic.
“It’s very scary,” said Amena, a 40-year-old mother of five.
“But they didn’t come, and probably won’t go where we are.”
Amena divides the curtain at the entrance to her cave into two cushions, a threadbear carpet, and a wood-burning stove that covers the ceiling with a thick layer.
Near the door is a bunch of potato stalks, the family’s only fuel.
“Wood is very expensive,” he says.
The area has never had electricity, and requires three long trips to the valley river each day to collect water.
Saifullah Aria, 25, deputy head of the local council, said the situation was dire.
“People here are poor. Very poor, ”he says.
“They usually earn 100-200 afghanis per day ($ 1.10-2: 10), but they have done nothing with the Taliban for the last six weeks.”
He said most of them eat only one meal a day after eating potatoes and bread.
Aria added that he had never seen NGOs reach the valley and that his pleas for help from the local Bamiyan authorities had gone unanswered.
“Soon with the arrival of winter, the weak will die here, that’s for sure.”