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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Soaring prices add to Afghan misery
By Chris Morris
BBC News, Kabul

Kabul market
There is no sign of price drops for essential goods
As the residents of Kabul prepare to break their fast at the end of the day, the street markets in the centre of the city are as busy as ever. But this year, during the holy month of Ramadan, there is a real struggle to make ends meet.

The price of basic food and fuel has soared in recent months, putting enormous strain on consumers.

"At the moment, it's the biggest problem we face," said one customer, paying for several bags of vegetables at a roadside stall.

"I used to be able to buy my onions and tomatoes for 60 Afghanis. Now it's 100 Afghanis. It's suddenly got very high."

"It's the same for everything, potatoes, all the vegetables," said Omar, selling his wares from a small wooden cart. "The big businessmen are responsible. They hoard everything and push the prices up."

Surcharging

A small crowd soon gathered around us. Everyone had a story to tell.

Kabul petrol station
Long queues at Kabul's only state-run petrol station

"Why is it so expensive?" shouted one man. "You should ask the government! Karzai doesn't care about ordinary people."

President Hamid Karzai says that he does. He convened a recent meeting at the presidential palace to deal specifically with the issue of price rises.

One cabinet minister pointed out that household gas, which should be sold at about 40 Afghanis ($0.8) per kilogram, is currently selling for 80 Afghanis.

The government has promised to identify anyone responsible for hoarding and surcharging and punish them.

But that's not much consolation for drivers buying fuel for their vehicles at a nearby petrol station.

"If the prices continue to rise," one driver said, "we'll have to get out of our cars and start walking."

He described queuing at the only state-run petrol station in Kabul - where the prices are cheaper - for three hours.

Traffic in Kabul
Prices have replaced security as the main concern for Kabul's residents

"I gave up and came over here."

Another driver, Hashmi, arrived, to fill up his sports utility vehicle. The amount he pays has risen recently by 40%.

"It's unbearable," he said. "Forty per cent makes a big difference even for the rich. But for the poor it's a killer."

Everyone has a theory about why the price has suddenly shot up so much. Iran is said to be supplying less fuel than it was last year, and other neighbouring countries have increased the taxes they charge.

Lack of security elsewhere in the country is also a factor, as is the all-pervasive issue of corruption. Businessmen have to pay protection money - "nuisance taxes" - to transport their goods. And any increase is passed on to the consumer.

Real achievement

Still some people are clearly taking advantage of the situation to make far more money than they should.

"The business people have a moral responsibility," said Hamidullah Farooqi, the chief executive of Afghanistan's International Chamber of Commerce.

Cyclist in Kabul
Salaries are low in a war-torn society

"But legally it's the government which should be controlling these things. If there's no (proper) implementation of the law, everyone will take advantage and jack up their prices."

One thing the Karzai government has brought to Kabul is a relative sense of security. The daily reports of military clashes and fighting elsewhere in the country don't have much affect on life in the city.

After so many years of war in and around Kabul, that is a real achievement for the government.

But if the price of basic food and fuel continues to rise, some people are bound to think about alternatives. And the only real alternative in Afghanistan at the moment is the Taleban.

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