Afghanistan: A Mounting Humanitarian Crisis

Anushka Narayan
26th February 2022

Picture Courtesy: Reuters

After the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the ones who have suffered the most are the ones caught in the crossfire—the people of Afghanistan. The decades long conflict has led to hundreds and thousands of causalities, internal displacement of the citizens along with poor living conditions to a lack of stability and corruption in the governance. Stuck between war, corruption and uncertainty, the Afghans have lived in a perpetual cycle of poverty and impoverishment. Though there was a significant improvement in the country’s economic progress following international aid and assistance, it has all come to a standstill following the events of August. This stagnation is now having detrimental effects on the country, and it has now become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

When the United States decided to intervene which resulted in a decades-long conflict against the Taliban, the economy of Afghanistan predominantly relied on the international support that was being offered. The country was depended on aid such as food handouts, which have now been suspended by the US, and NATO allied forces. A total of 75 percent of public spending, that is non-military expenditure, was covered by the United States as well as several countries. From the time of intervention in 2001, the US has spent a total of $5.8 billion on economic and infrastructure development. While the International aid should have helped in increasing the stability of the country, the increasing corruption played a huge set back in this development. The country is presently ranked as among 15 of the most corrupt nations, according to the CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index). Discussions by the international community suggest that the collapse of the country took place at such a rapid rate due to the government’s heavy reliance on the US forces and other aid. So, when the US troops withdrew, approximately 10 billion dollars in assets were frozen. The World Bank too has decided to freeze the funding it was providing the country. The International Monetary Fund paused plans to disburse $1.4 billion in aid to Afghanistan through 2025, and the European Union halted preparations to disburse more than $400 million in emergency reserves.

Now that all international support has been cut off from a country that depended on this support, it has succumbed to food insecurity, hunger, and widespread starvation. Coupled with the Covid-19 virus and climate change, the country is in severe need of support. Babies being sold to generate some meagre amount to keep families alive, burning of food and clothes to keep themselves warm due to the bitter cold have become a common occurrence for sustenance. The desperation to survive is worsened by the severe drought that struck in June 2021. The lack of trust stems from a concern of the abuse of power by the Taliban. The group promised to be different from the oppressive regime that it was once, but has already violated several of these promises made to the international community as a whole. Hence resulting in the assets being withdrawn and the Afghan Central bank reserves being frozen. Incidents of journalists being kidnapped, women brutally stoned and the sudden disappearance of imminent Afghan professionals are clear human rights violations, and a direct abuse of the guidelines promised by the group.

The question arises ‘Why can’t the Taliban look after the people of the country with the revenue that they incurred?’ The question may be simple but the answer has several layers. During the fiscal year of 2109-2020, the revenue incurred by the Taliban from a variety of sources was estimated to be up to $1.6 billion, with $400 million of this revenue generated from the sale and production of opium and opioids. While the group now refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, no country has recognized the Taliban as an official government and they are still classified as a terrorist organization, and are desperate to receive this international acknowledgement. A step taken in doing so has led to the group banning the growth of opium by the Afghan farmers, which in turn cuts off a predominant source of funding. Other sources of revenue such as mining of ores will not be fruitful in the short run as the crisis worsens with each passing day. Injection of funds by non-Western countries such as India, Iran, China and Pakistan are a source that has slightly eased the crisis but it is no match to the billions of frozen assets that were coming from the Western countries. The crisis has led 20 million into famine, and around 1 million children will lose their lives, which is more than the number of innocent lives lost during the war. According to the United Nations Development Programme, Afghanistan might face “universal poverty” by the middle of this year, with 97% of Afghans living below the World Bank-defined international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The group is simply ill equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis of such a large magnitude coupled with the crumbling of education and health care sectors.

Another issue that has arisen is the denial of the gravity of the situation by the group, the severity of the situation is being downplayed even though talks are now ensuing in the Oslo Summit. Many believe the conversations will not be fruitful and unlikely to offer a solution to the grievances of the people of Afghanistan.

The biggest solution to the ease the situation is for the United States and the World Bank to liquidate some of the assets to save millions of innocent lives. The funds could be distributed in such a manner that they can be used as leverage against the group, which will ensure that the funds are used for their intended purpose- to save the lives of Afghanistan. A system should be built in such a way that the money directly reaches the people and humanitarian organizations that are working on the ground to rebuild the crumbling healthcare sector. The situation is multifaceted and deep-rooted in mistrust of the Taliban, but the matter of morality should be taken into account. Time is of the essence and the world needs to come together to elevate this humanitarian crisis. We can only continue to hope that the people of Afghanistan will get the help and support that they are in urgent need of.

 

*The Author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies.

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