NGOs call for international community to end Afghans’ ‘new wave of hardships’

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A group of 32 Afghan and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) urge the international community not to abandon Afghanistan and address the root causes of the its economic crisis, stand up for human rights and increase humanitarian aid.

A year after their take-over, deep ideological deadlock between the Taliban and the international community is consigning millions of Afghans to destitution.

The group of NGO’s call for a clear roadmap that will lead to the restoration of the basic functions of the Afghan central bank and the release of Afghanistan’s assets frozen abroad, mainly in the US.

They also call for the disbursement of badly needed Afghan banknotes that have been printed but are impounded in Poland.

Talks on the release of the central bank’s assets have been unresolved for months, partly because the west is not yet prepared to lift sanctions until the Taliban set up a more diverse government, permit girls to return to secondary school and allow independent control of the Afghan central bank.

The European Union reiterated those broad demands in a statement issued on Sunday.

The 32 NGOs – representing most of the major agencies operating in the country – say: “In the past 12 months millions of Afghans have endured a new wave of hardship, with widespread hunger, unemployment and near universal poverty.”

“Ninety-five per cent of the population do not have enough food to eat. Women and girls are suffering disproportionately. NGOs on the ground are reporting that families are being forced to make impossible choices in order to survive.”

“The country is existing off an inadequate supply of humanitarian aid often transported in cash, as opposed to long-term development aid that can pay the salaries of teachers and hospital workers, as well as keep the infrastructure of public services functioning.”

Samira Sayed Rahman, the Afghanistan-based advocacy coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, one of the NGOs that have signed the statement, said: “On a recent trip to the south and south-east, I saw a healthcare system in collapse. Hospitals have not had the money to pay their staff in months. They do not have the money for pharmaceuticals and medicine. They do not have the money for equipment. Much of the healthcare sector is being run by the goodwill of Afghan doctors and nurses. That is not a sustainable model. Many are trying to leave.”

Asuntha Charles, the national director of World Vision Afghanistan, said: “The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is cataclysmic, and children – as ever in crises like this – are on the frontlines. Over 4 million children are out of school, the majority of them girls, and more than 1.1 million are engaged in child labour. I have met families forced to sell their children, as young as three years old, simply to survive. As the world’s attention drifts, Afghans are falling deeper into catastrophe. We cannot turn our backs on them now.”

Vicki Aken, the Afghanistan country director for the International Rescue Committee, said: “At the root of this crisis is the country’s economic collapse.

Decisions taken last year to isolate the Taliban – including the freezing of foreign reserves, the grounding of the banking system, and the halting of development assistance which financed most government services – have had a devastating impact.

Extreme poverty is reducing demand for goods, forcing Afghan companies out of business, contributing to rising unemployment and exacerbating food insecurity.

The US special representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, and the under-secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson, last met Taliban officials at the end of July in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to discuss the terms for releasing US$3.5bn (£2.9bn) of Afghan central bank assets held in the US. A further US$3.5bn has controversially been set aside by the Biden administration to help victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The west is unhappy at the Taliban’s appointment of a US-designated global terrorist, Noor Ahmad Agha, as deputy governor of the central bank. The US have been pressing for a body independent of the central bank to oversee the handling of any returned assets.

The NGOs in their statement do not go into detail but say “necessary safeguards should be in place” if the bank’s reserves are returned.

The inability of the bank to access the funds has resulted in a sharp depreciation of the Afghan currency, pushing up import prices, and led to a near collapse of the banking system, with citizens facing problems accessing savings and receiving salaries.

The NGOs also call for donors and international financial institutions to disburse the remainder of funds in the World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, as well as expand the role of NGOs in the fund.

In June the fund’s management committee approved the disbursement of US$793m in two tranches to more long-term projects outside the Taliban’s control. The NGOs say funding and support must also be made available to Afghan civil society organisations, particularly organisations led by women inside and outside the country.

Fereshta Abbasi, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “Hard-won gains over the past 20 years are rapidly being undone, as women and girls are systematically erased from public life. They no longer have access to the rights to education, employment, or freedom of movement. Women who I speak to feel aggrieved by an overwhelming sense of abandonment, a feeling of hopelessness. We must hear their calls.” (Source: The Guardian)

 

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