Col Ikram Ullah Chitral

Humanitarian crisis looms large in Afghanistan

Col (r) IkramUllah Khan

The chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan leaving the vestiges of ruins behind has badly damaged the image of America as a super power in the eyes of friends and foes alike. The withdrawal facilitated Taliban’s unimpeded victory and ultimate takeover of Afghanistan faster than one could imagine. It has left Afghanistan in dire economic situation with a bleak prospect to recover thus leading to an utter food and health crisis that could easily snowball into a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe in the days to come if the world community continues with its intransigence and apathetic attitude towards the people of Afghanistan out of sheer animosity with and disliking for Taliban. This economic collapse was destined to happen as the people of Afghanistan were kept on charity provided by international donor agencies during the past two decades-long US occupation and no industry and other development projects were set up during this period.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, a major humanitarian crisis is looming in Afghanistan after the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union suspended financing for projects in Afghanistan, and the US froze 7 billion dollars in Afghan foreign reserves held in New York. It’s not known how long Afghanistan Central Bank reserves will remain frozen.

In order to avert the crisis, the UN sponsored major fundraising conference was held in Geneva on 13 September 2021. It’s quite heartening to see the donors pledging more than one 1 billion dollars and showing international solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. The money would certainly allow the UN to help Afghans in their time of dire need. The UN Secretary General reportedly hailed this generosity by saying: “This will help the lifesaving humanitarian operation to make sure that Afghans get the essential services they need.”  The UN sources reveal that the UN wants the substantial chunks of this amount to go to the World Food Program and the WHO to provide desperately needed food and healthcare facilities. However, this emergency aid is just a peanut though a good gesture by the donors, and not sufficient to address the humanitarian crisis of biblical magnitude. The world needs to do much more to take Afghanistan out of the colossal economic crisis and save it from total economic collapse. To start with, the US must release the huge amount worth 7 billion dollars Afghanistan’s foreign reserves that remain frozen by the US since the Taliban takeover.

The economic collapse that has brought with it an unprecedented humanitarian crisis has created a famine-like situation in Afghanistan. The desperate struggle to survive deepens with every passing day. If hunger, absence of healthcare and abysmal poverty are any measure, then Afghanistan is on the brink of human disaster. Ominous signs of the mounting economic crisis make their dreadful appearance everywhere across Afghanistan and are clearly visible on the hunger-stricken faces of Afghans as the country totters on the brink of economic collapse. Angry Afghans with yet a little amount in their account are seen jostling with the panicked crowd outside banks across Kabul to draw their money but are only allowed to take out an amount equivalent of 200 dollars a week, a limit that has been imposed by Taliban on bank withdrawals.

According to the UN’s World Food Program (UNWFP), Afghanistan is facing an alarmingly high scale of hunger with 95% households passing their days without enough food to eat. As per the reports, people are seen sitting along a dirt path on the side of a busy main road selling their household possessions at a throwaway price in a bid to make money to feed their family members specially babies and children badly exposed to starvation. Hundreds of families who fled their homes during the Taliban advance now reportedly live under plastic sheets and small badly tattered tents in makeshift structures filled with women, children and men living a wretched existence.

Reports emanating from Kabul reveal that in a bid to stave off crisis, men and women, including the ailing and the elderly, line up in queues under the blazing sun at food distribution centers operated by the World Food Program (WFP) on the outskirts of Kabul to pick up ration including flour, beans, cooking oil and other items of daily use necessary to keep body and soul together. The desperation is terrible to witness.

According to another report released by World Health Organization, nearly 90% of Afghanistan’s health facilities have been shut due to the lack of international aid. If this dire health situation continues which seems quite likely under the prevailing conditions, thousands of children under the age of five could die each month, a warning given by  ‘Save the Children”,  a reputed international NGO.

The US strategy is to strangle Taliban’s finances to force Afghanistan’s Taliban-led new government to respect the rights of women and religious minorities. So far, Taliban have not been able to convince foreign donors to restart their aid program which they had discontinued immediately after Taliban takeover and seems unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future. The US has expressed its dissatisfaction on more than one occasion over the steps taken by Taliban including the recently formed interim government. It wants the government to be inclusive and broad-based as judged by the US standard so as to represent all ethnic groups and religious minorities which Talban have so far failed to do. It wants the Taliban to be more liberal and accommodative towards minorities and women’s rights including female education.

The US controlled world economic bodies like the World Bank, IMF, the donor agencies and the NGOs want to keep Taliban on tenterhooks till they succeed in assuring the US and other  Western countries which are under the US influence that they have shed their extremist policies about women’s rights and girls’ education and have severed their ties with al-Qaidah and Dae’sh and that they wouldn’t shelter these terrorist outfits and wouldn’t allow them to operate from Afghan soil against the US and its allies. However, in order to avert human disaster, there is an intense deliberation going on in Washington as well as in the UN on a proposal to deliver financial aid directly to needy Afghans by sidestepping Taliban authorities to save human lives.

The world must take action now without wasting further time to prevent a deep and massive humanitarian crisis. The international community needs to understand that by turning a blind eye towards the sufferings of Afghans, they are not punishing the Taliban but they are punishing the hapless people of Afghanistan who are groaning under the pains of hunger and starvation. Humanity must come first and the enmity of Taliban must come last.

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