UN Concerned About Afghans Facing Hunger and Economy in “Free Fall” By Radwan Jakeem

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Photo: Families in Afghanistan do not have the money they need, while prices for key commodities continue to rise. © UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

A senior UN official has painted a grim picture of Afghanistan with 23 million people facing hunger; malnourished children overflowing in health facilities; 70 per cent of teachers working without salaries; and millions of students—who are the country’s future—out of school.

The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said, Afghanistan’s economy is in “free fall”, and warned that if decisive and compassionate action is not taken immediately, it may “pull the entire population with it”.

Mr Griffiths was speaking virtually to the 17th Extraordinary Session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad, Pakistan, on December 19.

The current situation is worrying particularly as the value of the Afghani currency has plummeted, he said. The lack of confidence in the financial sector has destroyed trade and the space for borrowing and investment has dramatically constricted.

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

“Families simply do not have the cash for everyday transactions, while prices for key commodities continue to rise”.

The cost of wheat and fuel are up by around 40 per cent and food now accounts for more than 80 per cent of the average household expenditure.

And as international development support has frozen up, basic social services that all Afghans depend on are collapsing.

Mr. Griffiths cautioned that by the middle of next year, universal poverty —reaching 97 per cent of the population—could be “the next grim milestone”.

“Within a year, 30 per cent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product could be lost altogether, while male unemployment may double to 29 per cent”, he spelled out at the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

The OIC Council of Foreign Ministers met to express their willingness to help avert disaster and contribute to the humanitarian endeavour.

“The United Nations stands firmly with you, and in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan”, said the Relief Coordinator, explaining that next yearthe UN would seek 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 lifesaving assistance and must be funded as “a matter of priority”.

“The crisis is huge. Our humanitarian response is effective and continues to scale up, thanks to generous donor support and your sustained engagement”, he stated.

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.

The OIC met to express their willingness to help avert disaster and contribute to the humanitarian endeavour.

“The United Nations stands firmly with you, and in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan”, said the Relief Coordinator, explaining that next yearthe UN would seek 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 lifesaving assistance and must be funded as “a matter of priority”.

“The crisis is huge. Our humanitarian response is effective and continues to scale up, thanks to generous donor support and your sustained engagement”, he stated.

Afghanistan will not get through the winter on emergency aid alone, the UN official flagged, stressing the need for “flexible donor funding” that can be used to ensure salaries for public sector workers and support to basic services, such as health, education, electricity and livelihood.

And going forward, continued constructive engagement with the de facto authorities is imperative to “clarify what we expect of each other”. 

“The consequences of inaction on these three fronts are clear: Afghanistan will collapse, people will run out of hope, and the—and indeed the world—will see destabilization increase”, he underscored.

Noting that the meeting was being held at “a moment of exceptional gravity for the people of Afghanistan”, the senior UN official pointed out that “we have the advantage of being forewarned of the fate that awaits them if we do not act”.

Acknowledging that the meeting has provided both a chance and an opportunity to do so, he warned that “if we do not act with urgency and with a collective will, then there will be a terrible reckoning”.

“We cannot fail to do what we know is right, and what we know is possible”, concluded the Emergency Coordinator. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 December 2021]

Photo: Families in Afghanistan do not have the money they need, while prices for key commodities continue to rise. © UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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