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LETTER | Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis requires practical action

LETTER | The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is appalling. Despite having about US$1 trillion or more in pristine natural resources, the country lacks liquidity and suffers from an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe, which requires immediate and practical action.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), whose mission is to help countries reduce poverty, achieve sustainable economic growth and human development, approximately 23 million Afghans need food, and 97 percent of the 38 million Afghans are at risk of poverty.

Controlling this dire crisis and achieving sustainable economic growth requires effective moral leadership and good governance, which Afghanistan unfortunately lacks for a very long time.

Due to these shortages, Afghanistan, despite having rich natural resources, touristic scenes and hospitable culture, instead of achieving economic growth, has a fragmented economy to the point that the Taliban-led government is unable to pay the salaries of civil servants.

Seventy percent of Afghan teachers work without pay, malnourished children go to health centres and millions of students - the future of Afghanistan - are out of school. The cost of wheat and fuel has risen by about 40 percent, and food now accounts for more than 80 percent of the average household expenditure.

In short, the citizens of Afghanistan are suffering from unprecedented poverty and hunger.

In her latest report, Neda Al-Nashaf, Deputy Chief of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), noted that the Afghan people are struggling to meet their basic needs.

They are taking extreme measures such as child labour, child marriage, and even some of them, according to news reports, sell their children simply because they are unable to feed them and take the proceeds to feed their other children.

The situation is deplorable, some have likened it to the crisis that Yemen has endured for years, and may worsen unless its causes are identified and all stakeholders, including the Taliban de facto government, the United Nations (UN), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and their wealthy and industrial members, respond seriously, promptly and effectively.

So far, no significant steps have been taken to address the dire situation in Yemen, and it is hoped that Afghanistan, like Yemen, will not be forgotten.

Natural disasters such as drought and Covid-19 have contributed to this crisis, but they are not the main cause. War, corruption, mismanagement, and over-reliance on foreign aid are the main reasons. Both the former regime and the current Taliban de facto government are to blame.

Although the war is largely over, its effects, for which both the Taliban and the former regime are responsible, are obvious and it is the poor and innocent civilians who are being punished.

The corruption of the former regime and the policies of exclusion and gender discrimination of the current Taliban-led government, which deepen its international isolation, worsened the economic situation of the country and led to a humanitarian disaster that shocked the world.

Abdallah al-Dardari, the resident representative for the UNDP in Afghanistan, called the humanitarian catastrophe in the country the “worst”, which must be managed and eventually brought to a lasting end.

However, it is not easy unless concerted action is taken by all stakeholders to eradicate its causes.

Undoubtedly, the Taliban’s de facto government has minimised and or eliminated corruption to some extent, but that is not enough. The senior officials of the former regime, who were involved in the embezzlement of public property in any way, must be held accountable. Discriminatory and gender-based policies of the current de facto government should be set aside.

In other words, the irrational and in fact unIslamic policy of depriving women of the right to education and work is detrimental to economic growth and must end. To help eradicate poverty and actively participate in the development of the country, women must be allowed to work in all sectors.

The Taliban de facto government’s gender-discriminatory policies do not send a good picture of them to the international community and should therefore be put aside. The Taliban must respect the will of the people and form an inclusive government, and earn national and international legitimacy.

It should provide opportunities for skilled youth not to leave the country, and encourage those who have left to return; make use of the country’s natural resources to build infrastructure, create a favourable environment for domestic and foreign investment in various sectors, boost tourism and create job opportunities instead of depriving people of existing opportunities.

These are important for sustainable economic development, which the Taliban must focus on. Although the primary responsibility for combating the crisis and ensuring sustainable economic development lies with the Taliban de facto government, the UN, the OIC, and their rich member states can lend a helping hand.

Given peace as an essential ingredient of sustainable economic growth, the UN can help in finding a political settlement. It can also support farmers and agricultural livelihoods for the sake of food security in Afghanistan.

The UNDP has created a People’s Economy Fund that provides access to cash to vulnerable Afghans and micro-businesses which can support livelihoods and macroeconomic stabilisation.

On 19 th December 2021, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that facilitates humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, while keeping funds out of the Taliban’s hands.

The OIC also took some steps, though negligible, to give a helping hand to manage the crisis in Afghanistan. It has set up a humanitarian trust fund for Afghanistan under the aegis of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), though it is not clear how much funds it has and who is contributing to it and how much.

In any case, its aim is to serve as a vehicle to channel humanitarian assistance. It also agreed to launch a food security programme for Afghanistan in order to mitigate the growing food shortages in the country.

To coordinate humanitarian assistance efforts, the OIC has appointed a special representative for Afghanistan. It is hoped OIC will stand up to its promises and together with the UN will make sure humanitarian aid continues until the end of the crisis and beyond, and that the Taliban-led government will facilitate the fair distribution of aid to people in real need.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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