Kabul: Under the Bridge

PhotographerSouvid Datta
Entry Description

Addiction to drugs is no new phenomenon in Afghanistan. For years the country has produced up to 90% of the world's heroin and been a trafficking route to much of Eastern Europe and Russia.Yet, in the wake of the recent withdrawal of Western troops the countrys security situation and social stability is being called into question. 2013 saw a record-breaking opium harvest: the Taliban, who have long garnered funds through drug trade or taxing of local opium farmers, have taken advantage of this. They have grown markedly bolder, with offensives both in the provinces and the capital. Meanwhile, as international aids funds are beginning to dwindle and NGOs are migrating elsewhere, thousands of people are newly becoming addicted to drugs due to severe economic and social problems. A 2012 UN report blamed increasing drug addiction problem on three factors: decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment and employment.For the past three years addicts in Kabul had been dispersed following the destruction of an old Soviet cultural centre which had become a city-wide den of sorts. Now a new headquarters has emerged. In the West of the city, within the shadows under the Pul-e Sukhta bridge, a veritable township for addicts, dealers and criminals has grown. It is home to a putrid squalor of innumerable intoxicated corpses, aggressively shifting red eyes and scattered needles. Up to 2000 addicts can be found here on any given day, from hardened criminals, to unemployed youngsters and war-veterans. Outsiders are threatened away with violence, and the police, when not bribed or complicit, can do little to control such a large mob. The addicts' plight is only marginally mitigated by the assistance of under-funded state medical facilities and a handful of NGOs. For a majority of Kabul's residents, the addicts have come to constitute a social danger or a source of shame to be ignored. Yet if nothing substantial is done, the problems under the bridge will only only grow to affect more and more of the country.