As over half of Afghanistan's population faces extreme levels of hunger, UN chief Antonio Guterres said liquidity must be restored to the country's economy.

The UN says 8.7 million Afghans are on the brink of starvation.
The UN says 8.7 million Afghans are on the brink of starvation. (Reuters Archive)

The UN chief has urged nations to greatly boost humanitarian aid for millions of Afghans living in “a frozen hell” and release nearly $9 billion in frozen assets to pull Afghanistan’s economy back from the brink of a collapse that could set off a mass exodus of people fleeing the country.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that liquidity must be urgently restored to the Afghan economy.

He said that means freeing up the country’s frozen currency reserves, re-engaging with its Central Bank and finding other ways to inject money, including allowing international funds to pay the salaries of doctors, teachers, sanitation workers, electricians and other civil servants.

“Time is of the essence,” Guterres told the Security Council. “Without action, lives will be lost, and despair and extremism will grow.”

Guterres said the World Bank’s reconstruction trust fund for Afghanistan transferred $280 million last month to the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the World Food Program.

He said the remaining $1.2 million should be released urgently to help Afghans survive the winter.

Deborah Lyons, the UN special representative for Afghanistan, told the council that the more than $4.4 billion humanitarian appeal the UN launched two weeks ago for Afghanistan, the largest in the UN’s history for a single country, “is roughly the same amount that donors spent on the entire operating budget of the government.”

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'A bargaining chip'

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was already stumbling when the Taliban seized power last August amid the chaotic departure of US and NATO troops after 20 years.

The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted economic support, unwilling to work with the Taliban, given the brutality during their 1996-2001 rule and refusal to educate girls and allow women to work.

The UN says 8.7 million Afghans are on the brink of starvation, and Guterres said over half the population faces “extreme levels of hunger.”

The council adopted a resolution last month affirming that humanitarian aid to Afghans doesn’t violate sanctions against the Taliban, but China's UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, claimed aid “is being used as a bargaining chip, a political tool.”

That is “playing games with the lives and well-being of 38 million Afghans who are in direct need of relief,” Zhang said, saying that freezing Afghan assets and unilateral sanctions “are no less lethal than military intervention.”

If Afghan women “can’t even have food or survive, then the talk of education, employment and political participation will become empty words,” he added.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies