‘Freezing temperature and frozen assets’: UN chief warns about millions in Afghanistan on ‘verge of death’

"Freezing temperature and frozen assets" are a “lethal combination" for the people of Afghanistan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, warning millions in the country are on the “verge of death” and requesting for the release of frozen assets to avert a complete collapse

Jan 14, 2022
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

"Freezing temperature and frozen assets" are a “lethal combination" for the people of Afghanistan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, warning millions in the country are on the “verge of death” and requesting for the release of frozen assets to avert a complete collapse. He also appealed to the world community to donate to the UN’s $5 billion funds needed for humanitarian assistance this year for Afghanistan. 

Pressing on the severity of the crisis, the secretary-general on Thursday  said, “rules and conditions that prevent money from being used to save lives and the economy must be suspended in this emergency situation.”

Since August last year, when the Taliban seized power in the country, the Afghan economy is in meltdown as the international community responded to the military takeover by freezing Afghan national reserves, most of which are stored in the US, and cutting of development aid that been sustaining most critical sectors like health and educations. 

Almost 57 percent of Afghans are facing acute food shortages amid the winter. The new rulers, the Taliban, remain intransigent, refusing to deliver on human rights, gender rights, and inclusive government, a deadlock that is prolonging the crisis with multiplying disastrous effects. 

Speaking on Thursday, the UN chief said that it’s critical to rapidly inject liquidity into the Afghan economy “and avoid a meltdown that would lead to poverty, hunger and destitution for millions.”

The international funding, he said, should be allowed to pay the salaries of doctors, sanitation workers, electrical engineers, and other civil servants, as well as help Afghan institutions, delivering health care, education, and other key services.

In the absence of funding, services in the country have been going through a breakdown.

In December last year, the World Bank transferred $280 million from a reconstruction trust fund it administers for Afghanistan to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, and the World Food Program for their operations in the country, he said.

“I hope the remaining resources — more than $1.2 billion — will become available to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter,” Guterres was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. 

On Friday, Martin Griffiths, who is U.N. humanitarian chief,  and Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, are scheduled to hold a virtual meeting Friday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In the meeting, Guterres said, the focus will be on finding some effective mechanism for liquidity injunction into Afghan banks so that they could operate in local currency. 

However, there are real risks of the Taliban misusing funds from the banks operated by their appointees, as many of them do not have enough professional experience to operate complicated banking operations. 

(SAM) 

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