UN chief urges major Afghan aid increase, unfreezing assets - GulfToday

UN chief urges major Afghan aid increase, unfreezing assets


Afghans wait to receive food rations organised by the World Food Programme in Pul-e-Alam. AP

Gulf Today Report

The UN chief urged nations on Wednesday to greatly boost humanitarian aid for millions of Afghans living in "a frozen hell” and release nearly $9 billion in frozen assets to pull Afghanistan’s economy back from the brink of a collapse that could set off a mass exodus of people fleeing the country.

"Time is of the essence,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council. "Without action, lives will be lost, and despair and extremism will grow.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a UN session. File photo

Guterres said liquidity must be urgently restored to the Afghan economy. He said that means freeing up the country’s frozen currency reserves, re-engaging with its Central Bank and finding other ways to inject money, including allowing international funds to pay the salaries of doctors, teachers, sanitation workers, electricians and other civil servants.

Three days of talks between the Taliban, Western diplomats and other delegates on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and human rights were wrapping up on Tuesday in Norway, with acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi praising the discussions, which he said "went very well."

The closed-door meetings in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital of Oslo came at a crucial time for Afghanistan, as freezing temperatures are compounding the misery from the country's downward economic spiral after the fall of the US-backed government and the Taliban takeover last summer.

Representatives of the Taliban leave after attending meetings at the Soria Moria hotel in Gardermoen, Norway. Reuters

China and Russia reiterated their calls for unfreezing Afghan assets, while US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration is examining "various options to ease the liquidity crunch.”

She said the United States, which announced an initial contribution of $308 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan on Jan. 11, remains the largest provider of assistance to the country. But she said that "much more support from the international community will be required to meet the extraordinary level of need the Afghan people are experiencing.”

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was already stumbling when the Taliban seized power last August amid the chaotic departure of US and NATO troops after 20 years. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted economic support, unwilling to work with the Taliban, given the brutality during their 1996-2001 rule and refusal to educate girls and allow women to work.

Afghan women and a child warm themselves as they wait for alms in Kabul. AP

Guterres said the World Bank’s reconstruction trust fund for Afghanistan transferred $280 million last month to the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the World Food Programme. He said the remaining $1.2 million should be released urgently to help Afghans survive the winter.

Deborah Lyons, the UN special representative for Afghanistan, told the council that the more than $4.4 billion humanitarian appeal the UN launched two weeks ago for Afghanistan — the largest in the UN’s history for a single country -- "is roughly the same amount that donors spent on the entire operating budget of the government.” Most of that budget support came from the United States.

The UN says 8.7 million Afghans are on the brink of starvation, and Guterres said over half the population faces "extreme levels of hunger.”

Afghans wait to receive food rations organised by the World Food Programme in Pul-e-Alam. AP

"More than 80% of the population relies on contaminated drinking water, and some families are selling their babies to purchase food,” he said.

The council adopted a resolution last month affirming that humanitarian aid to Afghans doesn’t violate sanctions against the Taliban, but China's UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, claimed aid "is being used as a bargaining chip, a political tool.”

That is "playing games with the lives and well-being of 38 million Afghans who are in dire need of relief,” Zhang said, saying that freezing Afghan assets and unilateral sanctions "are no less lethal than military intervention.”

If Afghan women "can’t even have food or survive, then the talk of education, employment and political participation will become empty words,” he added.



Related articles