The situation in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture following the Taliban's takeover on August 15, 2021. Human Rights Watch calls upon foreign donors to take immediate action to ensure that vital aid reaches the Afghan population, which is now grappling with hunger and a collapsing healthcare system. Furthermore, a coordinated plan of action is required to address essential areas such as education, the banking system, and other critical needs that demand cooperation with Taliban authorities, who have a concerning track record on human rights, particularly regarding women and girls.
Humanitarian Aid Under Threat
The abrupt shift in Afghanistan's political landscape has left many government institutions inoperative due to funding uncertainties. Additionally, humanitarian aid and other assistance provided by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have been severely hampered by security concerns, staff evacuations, closures, and legal ambiguities. UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a stark warning on August 31, emphasizing the looming humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and urging donor governments to generously support an emergency flash appeal. Both the United States and the European Union have expressed their commitment to continue providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, acknowledges the concerns of donor governments about providing assistance under the Taliban's rule but stresses the urgency of the situation. She emphasizes the need for donors to urgently back international agencies and NGOs capable of delivering emergency aid for essentials like food, healthcare, and education. Furthermore, she calls for the development of a comprehensive plan to address aid that directly engages with the Taliban.
Economic Collapse and Food Insecurity
Afghanistan is in the midst of a severe economic collapse, with skyrocketing prices for food and essential goods. Most banks remain closed, exacerbating the crisis. Even before the Taliban takeover, over 30 percent of the country's population faced acute food insecurity. This figure has now surged to over 40 percent. Alarming statistics from December 2020 reveal that an estimated 3.1 million out of almost seven million children under the age of 5 in Afghanistan were acutely malnourished, translating to an astonishing one in two children in desperate need of malnutrition treatment services.
Challenges in Aid Delivery
Donors had suspended most international aid to Afghan government agencies and institutions just before and after the Taliban's takeover. The Central Bank of Afghanistan, now under Taliban control, has been cut off from the international banking system, hindering access to the country's foreign currency reserves. The International Monetary Fund, reportedly at the request of the United States, has also hindered Afghanistan's access to credit and assets, including approximately $440 million worth of Special Drawing Rights allocated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Review of Sanctions
The intricate web of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, the United States, the European Union, and many governments should be reviewed to ensure that they do not obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance by non-governmental organizations.
Education and Healthcare Challenges
The education system in Afghanistan, which enrolls approximately seven million students, with 38 percent of them being girls, requires sustained foreign funding. Donor governments that have provided funding should exert pressure on the Taliban to allow all schools to operate, ensuring that girls and women can attend without intimidation or threats.
In the healthcare sector, non-governmental organizations have played a pivotal role in providing services on behalf of the government. However, they cannot replace the state system, which heavily relies on international funds. The Taliban must commit to non-discrimination in providing healthcare services and allow the existing system to function effectively.
Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that threatens the basic needs of its population. Donors have the challenging task of ensuring that emergency support reaches those in dire need while simultaneously preventing any inadvertent facilitation of Taliban abuses. The international community must rise to this occasion, for the lives and well-being of millions of Afghans hang in the balance.