UN chief asks countries to pave the way for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan

Afghanistan “hangs by a thread”, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council on Wednesday, calling on countries to authorize all transactions necessary to carry out humanitarian activities in the Taliban-led state.

He also pushed for the suspension of any rules or conditions restricting “life-saving” aid operations as millions of people in the country suffer from extreme hunger, education and social services are on the verge of collapse and the lack of cash limits the ability of the United Nations and aid groups to reach those in need.

“We need to give financial institutions and business partners the legal assurance that they can work with humanitarian operators without fear of violating sanctions,” Guterres said, noting that the 15-member council passed an exemption last month. humanitarian response to UN sanctions related to Afghanistan.

Some US$9.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves remain stuck overseas and international development aid has dried up since the Taliban took power in August. Donors seek to use the money as leverage on the Taliban on issues such as human rights.

“There is compelling evidence of an emerging environment of intimidation and deteriorating respect for human rights. This suggests that the consolidation of government authority could lead to population control through fear” , UN special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the council.

Urgent need in winter

In December, donors to a World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund agreed to transfer US$280 million to the World Food Program and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan. Guterres said the remaining US$1.2 billion in the fund must “be released urgently to help the Afghan people survive the winter”.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council that Washington has taken steps to ensure US sanctions do not impede humanitarian activity and is examining various options to alleviate the liquidity crisis. »

An Afghan pushes his wheelbarrow down a street during a snowfall in Kabul last Saturday. (Ali Khara/Reuters)

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president Peter Maurer met virtually with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month on the Afghanistan.

Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC’s director of operations, said “intense” discussions between the United Nations, the ICRC, the World Bank and major donor countries centered on a “humanitarian exchange facility” that would be supported or managed by the World Bank and would allow the money to be injected into the Afghan economy.

He told reporters the cash could be deposited at the facility and “under certain conditions the cash could be made available to traders in Afghanistan”, although he said it was a temporary measure because “it must be the central bank that must be empowered”. perform these functions. »

Thomas-Greenfield said that “ultimately, a functioning Afghan economy will require an independent and technically competent central bank that meets international banking standards.”

Stillhart said an agreement was needed between the UN, World Bank and major donors to ‘kick-start this facility’, noting the discussion was not related to unfreezing Afghan assets or changes to Taliban sanctions .

An Afghan looks out from inside his store during a snowfall in Kabul on January 3. (Ali Khara/Reuters)

He said another idea was also being discussed, which would involve using money from the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund administered by the World Bank to pay public sector employees not part of Security.

Earlier this month, the United Nations appealed for US$4.4 billion in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in 2022. On Wednesday, it said it needed an additional US$3.6 billion to health and education, basic infrastructure, promotion of livelihoods and social cohesion, in particular the needs of women and girls.

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