Afghan humanitarian crisis widens

Afghan humanitarian crisis widens

One year after the appalling collapse of Afghanistan in August last year into the hands of the Taliban insurgents, the humanitarian crisis in that beleaguered South Asian country has gone from bad to worse.

The Biden administration's shameful and botched pullout of US forces signalled the last tawdry act of the 20-year crisis; now the widening legacy of food shortages, refugees and societal collapse, seems to define Afghanistan's "new normal" for the immediate future.

On the grand scale, the collapse of the Kabul government emboldened dictators seeing that a US ally would be allowed to fall like a rotten pomegranate. Russian President Vladimir Putin was energised to expand his plans for neighbouring Ukraine. China's Xi Jinping renewed his strategy to target democratic Taiwan. Blood was in the water. A geopolitical shift was in the making.

The US' Afghan chapter has turned, but the bitter legacy lingers.

A recent UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan's dire situation put the matter into perilous focus. Martin Griffiths, the UN's Humanitarian Chief stated late last month, "The people in Afghanistan continue to face extreme hardship and uncertainty ... More than half the population, some 24 million people, need humanitarian assistance. An estimated 3 million children are acutely malnourished. "

He added: "Relentless layers of crisis persist at a time when communities are already struggling."

Since the Taliban takeover, most large-scale development assistance has been suspended. Needless to say that before the collapse of the Kabul government, the country was facing enduring conflict prompting severe levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. Today the situation has deteriorated since significant foreign development aid was halted.

Mr Griffiths warned: "Women have been pushed to the sidelines. The meagre gains the country made to protect women's rights have been quickly reversed. It's been more than a year since adolescent girls in Afghanistan last set foot inside a classroom." Girls have not been permitted to go back to school.

Unicef estimates the Afghan economy would gain US$5.4 billion (196.5 billion baht) if the Taliban let girls go to secondary school and join the workforce. But since attention has now shifted to other global trouble spots such as Ukraine, what about the current Afghan humanitarian situation and who is supplying needed food and medicines?

While groups remain active in distributing aid on a limited scale throughout the country, and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan plays a crucial role, the massive governmental aid and assistance the country became reliant on has largely been trimmed or ceased since the Taliban takeover.

But as US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield advised: "Instead of looking to the international community for help with these crises, the Taliban harboured the leader of al-Qaeda in downtown Kabul. How can they expect to build a relationship with the world when the Taliban provides safe haven to those who seek to do harm to us all?"

She added bluntly: "And in recent months the Taliban have even made the delivery of humanitarian assistance more difficult. They continue to interfere with the delivery of critical assistance that the Afghan people desperately need. The Taliban has increased taxes on critical assistance."

So is the US still providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan?

Absolutely. In fact the US is the world's leading donor in Afghanistan. The envoy said: "This last year alone, we have provided more than $775 million in humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people and Afghans in the region." The US is the largest contributor to UN operations in Afghanistan.

Importantly, the previous Afghan government held $3.5 billion in central bank assets for the benefit of the Afghan people. While the Taliban regime naturally wants access to the money, most likely to pursue its own corruption and cronyism, the fact remains the money remains out of their grasp for now.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield stated clearly: "No country that is serious about containing terrorism in Afghanistan would advocate to give the Taliban instantaneous, unconditional access to billions in assets that belong to the Afghan people." Let's hold to that promise!

After 20 years of inconclusive conflict the US left Afghanistan. Amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover of the country, we left behind thousands of Afghans who directly helped and assisted the US military and economic efforts.

Many US citizens still remain trapped behind enemy lines, now for over a year.

But long-suffering Afghanistan and its people have largely been forgotten since the black Taliban shroud descended across the land. Darkness has fallen.

John J Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defence issues. He is the author of 'Divided Dynamism -- The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China'.

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