By Alex Butler
On Tuesday, January 11, the United Nations launched its largest appeal to date. Over $5 billion was requested to help around 22 million Afghans whose country is slipping into a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse, as well as the 5.7 million refugees that have fled to five neighboring countries. This joint appeal asks for $4.4 billion for the UN and its humanitarian partners to help those in Afghanistan and $623 million for the Afghans residing in Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, per The Diplomat.
Currently, more than half of the Afghan population depends on life-saving assistance. The UN Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths stressed that donor nations need to agree that they need to support essential services for the Afghan people in addition to emergency humanitarian aid. This includes education, hospitals, electricity, and the payment of civil servants.
"Overall, more than half a million people have lost or been pushed out of their jobs since the takeover, with women being hit especially hard."
Some states have already announced new funding or indicated that they would be doing so soon. The Guardian reports that the United States has pledged $308 million, and Israel has pledged $500,000. However, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces has made it challenging to help the Afghan people adequately.
The Taliban has banned all foreign currency transactions, and yet has urged the US to ease sanctions and release Afghanistan's overseas assets so the government can pay teachers, doctors, and public sector employees. The UN Secretary-General Antónia Guterres also expressed his concern for the rules and conditions that have prevented money from being used to save lives and the economy, arguing that they should be temporarily suspended. "International funding should be allowed to pay the salaries of public-sector workers," he announced. He added that he believes the only way to avoid economic collapse is to uphold the function of Afghanistan's Central Bank, as ABC News reported that the banking system has already essentially shut down.
The conditional relapse of foreign currency reserves would be another essential step. Griffiths agrees, tweeting, "Our message was clear: the people of Afghanistan need a functioning economy, not just aid, to survive. Donor funding can help deliver basic services in Afghanistan. That's not rewarding the Taliban."
UN News reports that the International Labour Organization warned that the Afghan economy has been paralyzed since August, resulting in massive job loss and the cutting of working hours. Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's economy was aid-reliant. The takeover only served to plunge it into turmoil as the reserves of its central banks were frozen, and the International Monetary Fund blocked around $450 million because of a lack of clarity about a new government.
The economic crisis has been made worse by the Taliban's treatment of the population, particularly women. The Taliban initially promised tolerance and inclusiveness towards women and ethnic minorities. However, they have renewed restrictions on women and appointed an all-male government. This has faced backlash within the international community and among aid donors according to The Diplomat. Guterres has pleaded for the Taliban to recognize and protect the fundamental human rights of girls and women within the country. He pointed out that a generation of girls is seeing their hopes and dreams shattered as they are barred from their classrooms, while the skills of women scientists, lawyers, and teachers are being wasted as they are locked out of their offices.
"No country can thrive while denying the rights of half its population," he concluded.
Overall, more than half a million people have lost or been pushed out of their jobs since the takeover, with women being hit especially hard. The ILO predicts that women's employment levels had decreased by 16 percent in the third quarter of 2021 and could fall between 21 percent and 28 percent by mid-2022. Due to these restrictions on women's participation in the workplace, the UN projects expected job losses to increase up to 700,000 to 900,000.
Many key sectors have been unable to cope with the hundreds of thousands of job losses, including agriculture, construction, security forces, and the civil service. The lack of work could worsen child labor levels in Afghanistan, where only 40 percent of children aged 5 to 17 attending school.
Afghanistan's ambassador, who represented the former government, Nasir Ahmad Andisha, told the UN that "Afghanistan is unfortunately experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis of its contemporary history, and perhaps one of the worst in the world." He went on to discuss how his country is facing an economic downfall, food insecurity, a banking and fiscal crisis, climate change, severe unemployment, and widespread abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially for women.
Food prices have risen an estimated 10 to 20 percent, with some of the most essential items such as wheat, fuel, and flour going up almost 50 percent. International aid organizations have shared their concerns. The International Refugee Committee states that it has seen a thirtyfold increase in the severest form of child malnutrition in western Herat and a twofold increase in Khost. As winter sets in, the dangers increase.
Guterres made a plea to the international community, stating that without a more concerted effort from the international community, "virtually every man, woman, and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty." He promises that if the funding is achieved, the aid operation could achieve amazing results.
The UN Refugee Chief, Filippo Grande, has stated that "the international community must do everything it can to prevent a catastrophe in Afghanistan, which would not only compound suffering, but would drive further displacement both within the country and throughout the region." He followed up by promising that security and resources will help the return of refugees. Afghans can only hope that these appeals will be followed by funding that will ease some of the many burdens they are currently facing.