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Employment for Afghan women in a bakery in Kandahar. Employment for Afghan women in a bakery in Kandahar.  (ANSA)

UN chief: “Nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan"

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that without a more concerted effort from the international community, virtually every Afghan man, woman and child could face acute poverty amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Robin Gomes

The United Nations chief on Thursday warned that a nightmare was unfolding in Afghanistan, with freezing temperatures and frozen assets combining to create a lethal combination for the people.  Two days after the world body launched its largest funding appeal ever for a single country, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York that the UN was racing against time to come to the rescue of the Afghan people.

Life-saving assistance

Earlier on Tuesday, 2 UN agencies and their humanitarian partners appealed for more than $5 billion for the people of Afghanistan for 2022. 

Backing their call, Guterres said more than half the population now depends on life-saving assistance.  Without a more concerted effort from the international community, virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The UN chief said a properly funded aid operation in Afghanistan has the capacity to achieve amazing results, saying aid reached some 18 million people across the country last year.

WFP: “Tsunami of hunger”

Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) also warned of a “tsunami of hunger” in Afghanistan because of a shortage of funds needed to help keep alive the supply of food. Speaking to Associated Press, WFP’s country director in Afghanistan, Mary-Ellen McGroarty said the international community must put humanitarian necessity above political discussions and avoid disaster by making sure that billions in aid keep reaching the Taliban-run country.

Some 22.8 million of Afghanistan’s 40 million people face acute food shortages, including 8.7 million close to starvation. She said WFP needs $2.6 billion to be able to do the minimum in 2022.

“This is the first time ever for them, and they told me the hunger is worse than the conflict that they have lived through over five decades," McGroarty said speaking about desperate Afghans in dire need of help.

Frozen assets

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was already tottering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a disorderly departure of US and NATO troops. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted funding, unwilling to work with a Taliban government given its reputation for brutality during its previous rule 20 years ago. This has battered the country’s already fragile economy, leading to increasing poverty and a serious humanitarian crisis.

The UN Secretary-General said humanitarian operations desperately need more money and more flexibility. “Rules and conditions that prevent money from being used to save lives and the economy,” he said, “must be suspended in this emergency situation.” “International funding should be allowed to pay the salaries of public-sector workers, and to help Afghan institutions deliver healthcare, education and other vital services.”

Guterres said the UN is taking steps to inject cash into the economy through creative authorized arrangements, but this was just a drop in the bucket.  He highlighted the need to jump-start the Afghan banking system to avoid economic collapse and to enable humanitarian operations. He said, “The United Nations in Afghanistan stands ready to work with Member States and others to put in place accountable systems that will enable funds to reach the Afghan people most in need, and to ensure that these funds are not diverted.”

Women’s rights

While appealing for international support for the Afghan people, the UN chief made “an equally urgent plea to the Taliban leadership to recognize and protect the fundamental human, and in particular the rights of women and girls.” He said, “Across Afghanistan, women and girls are missing from offices and classrooms. A generation of girls is seeing its hopes and dreams shattered. Women scientists, lawyers and teachers are locked out - wasting skills and talents that will benefit the entire country and, indeed, the world.”  “No country,” he stressed, “can thrive while denying the rights of half of its population.”

Creative engagement

Guterres noted that moving forward, it is also essential that every effort is made to build inclusive government institutions in which all Afghans feel represented and that promote security and fight terrorism.

The Secretary-General underscored that, “without creative, flexible and constructive engagement by the international community, Afghanistan’s economic situation will only worsen; despair and extremism will grow; We need to act now to prevent economic and social collapse and find ways to prevent further suffering for millions of Afghans.”  (Source: UN)

14 January 2022, 15:16