The Stream

Is Afghanistan being cut off from the world?

On Tuesday, December 14 at 19:30 GMT:
Millions of people across Afghanistan are facing severe hunger nearly four months after the Taliban took power, a humanitarian crisis set to deepen with the onset of the approaching winter.

The World Food Programme estimates that about 24 million people in Afghanistan – 60 percent of the country’s population – are facing “acute hunger”, as the country’s most severe drought in decades intensifies and an economic crisis worsens.

The World Bank announced on December 10 that international donors to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) have agreed to release $280m in aid to UNICEF and the World Food Programme in order “to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan at this critical time”.

But the United States is continuing to freeze $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets held in US banks, a block imposed soon after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital Kabul on August 15 amid a chaotic withdrawal of US-led foreign forces. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank also halted Afghanistan’s government from access to its funds in August, saying they were concerned about the Taliban’s running of the country and its human rights record.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan recently warned in a briefing to the UN Security Council that Afghanistan is now “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe that is preventable”. She said “every aspect” of the country’s economy has been hit by international financial sanctions that have “paralysed” the Afghan banking system.

With Afghanistan now isolated from funding and banking channels, aid agencies in Afghanistan are struggling to pay local staff to provide essential help to communities. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross says: “The main problem in Afghanistan is not hunger. The main problem is the lack of cash to pay salaries to deliver social services which have existed before.”

Now thousands of people facing destitution are now leaving their homes – with many crossing the border into Iran. They are among more than 700,000 people displaced by conflict, natural disasters, and the burgeoning economic emergency in 2021 alone. Recent attacks by the Islamic of Khorasan Province, an affiliate of Islamic State (Isil), have put communities further on edge.

Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government is continuing to call for formal recognition by the United Nations, but on December 1 a General Assembly committee deferred a decision on who will be the rightful representatives of Afghanistan to the world body. UN member countries are urging the Taliban to dramatically improve human rights and ensure that the country’s leadership is more representative.

In this episode of The Stream we’ll look at the challenges facing people across Afghanistan as winter nears, and ask what domestic and international action it will take to tackle a humanitarian disaster growing more critical by the day.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Ali Latifi, @alibomaye
Correspondent, Al Jazeera English

Shelley Thakral, @WFP
Spokesperson, World Food Programme

Sulaiman Bin Shah, @binshah
Business Consultant at Catalyst Afghanistan, and former Deputy Minister, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Industry & Commerce