UN, US lawmakers back efforts to prevent Afghanistan’s economic meltdown

Published December 20, 2021
The United Nations' new Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths addresses a news conference on the humanitarian crisis in Tigray after visiting the region, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, August 3. — Reuters/File
The United Nations' new Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths addresses a news conference on the humanitarian crisis in Tigray after visiting the region, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, August 3. — Reuters/File

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations joined Pakistan on Sunday in appealing to the world to help prevent Afghanistan’s economic collapse as 39 US lawmakers also backed the call.

In a message to the 17th Extraordinary Session of the OIC foreign ministers, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths reminded the world that “now is the time” to save Afghanistan from a total collapse.

“The need for liquidity and stabilisation of the banking system is now urgent – not only to save the lives of the Afghan people but also to enable humanitarian organisations to respond,” he said.

In Washington, 30 lawmakers put their signatures to a letter to US secretaries of state and treasury on Saturday, asking them to help rebuild Afghanistan’s failing economy and to unfreeze the country’s assets.

The letter includes four proposals: Releasing frozen Afghan assets of more than $9 billion to an appropriate UN agency, expanding sanction exemptions for international organisations dealing with Afghanistan, assisting multilateral organisations to pay salaries of essential workers, and allowing international financial institutions to “inject the necessary economic capital into Afghanistan to stave off the economic meltdown”.

In his virtual message, Mr Griffiths warned that Afghanistan’s economy was in “free fall” and if decisive and compassionate action was not taken immediately, it may “pull the entire population with it.”

The message depicted a grim picture of the current situation in Afghanistan: 23 million people facing hunger; malnourished children overflowing in health facilities; 70 percent of teachers working without salaries; and millions of students out of school.

Mr Griffiths warned that the plummeting value of the Afghani currency, a lack of confidence in the financial sector, ever-decreasing trade and the narrowing space for borrowing and investment had further complicated the situation.

The UN official welcomed the decision by the World Bank’s Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to transfer $280 million by the end of December to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

“This step should be followed by reprogramming of the whole fund to support the Afghan people this winter,” he said. “Families simply do not have the cash for everyday transactions, while prices for key commodities continue to rise.”

In Washington, Pakistan’s ambassador Asad Majeed Khan also urged the international community to understand the seriousness of the situation.

“We are deeply concerned over the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan that threatens millions of Afghans with hunger, disease and death,” he said.

He said that Pakistan convened the OIC conference to demonstrate the Islamic world’s solidarity with the Afghan people and to “mobilise international support for a coordinated global response to prevent the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.”

At the UN, Mr Griffiths warned that within a year, “30 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product could be lost altogether, while male unemployment may double to 29 per cent. He said that in 2022, the UN would launch its largest-ever funding appeal of $4.5 billion “to help the most vulnerable in Afghanistan”.

The plan is a stopgap measure for over 21 million people who need life saving assistance and must be funded as “a matter of priority,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2021

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