This winter, Afghanistan faces a humanitarian catastrophe, largely due to the collapse of the economy because of the freezing of the country’s foreign reserves by the United States and other Western countries.
On 16 November, 12 countries in the region called on the US to unfreeze billions of dollars of assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank. They were meeting in Russia as ‘the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan’, first set up in 2017. The 12 included Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as China, India and Russia.
The UN’s OCHA humanitarian agency reported on 1 December that the economy has suffered dramatically ‘due to disruption to financial and trade mechanisms’, unemployment and the loss of foreign aid (which used to cover 75 percent of government spending).
One of the major disruptions to international trade and financial flows has been the freezing of the central bank’s assets.
‘Nearly 19 million people are estimated to remain acutely food insecure in the second half of 2022, with nearly 6 million people still considered to be on the brink of famine’, according to a 24 November report from the Disasters Emergency Committee coalition of British aid agencies.
According to a 23 November note from the UN World Food Programme, ‘All 34 provinces [of Afghanistan] are facing crisis or emergency levels of acute food insecurity’. Entering its third year of drought, ‘Afghanistan is also in the grips of a climate-change induced crisis, with 30 out of 34 provinces experiencing extremely low quality of water’, the UN OCHA humanitarian agency reported on 1 December.
Back in August, the UN deputy special representative Dr Ramiz Alakbarov said: ‘The situation can be best described as a pure catastrophe... You’ve seen people selling organs, you’ve seen people selling children. This has been widely covered in the media, and this is what we will be seeing again if support is not provided.’
The NGO ‘Afghan Sustainable Economic Foundation’ tweeted on 19 November that, with $9bn of central bank funds frozen, $4bn of reconstruction funds frozen, Afghan banks cut off from international banks, and all women’s development aid cancelled, ‘Net result = collective punishment of Afg ppl for a govt they did not choose’.