Monday, August 15, 2022

Afghan Sanctions Cause Suffering

 Afghans are struggling with many crises. There is the devastation brought about by decades of war. Climate change has led to droughts across large parts of the country for three years. Elsewhere, it has caused flooding or unseasonal snowfall in the middle of June. This year, the country suffered another major earthquake.

More than a million children are severely malnourished and half of Afghanistan's population (20 million people) is going hungry. Since January, 13,000 newborns have died from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases, 95% of people lack enough to eat, and 3.5M children need nutritional support.

"Hell on Earth" is how David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) described the situation in Afghanistan.

The  think tank International Crisis Group fears that "hunger and hardship following the Taliban takeover could kill more Afghan people than all the bombs and bullets of the last two decades."

Nora Hassanien, acting country director in Afghanistan for the humanitarian organization Save the Children, told DW of "desperate families" who were having to resort to increasingly extreme and harmful coping strategies. "That includes selling their children"

The health sector is collapsing. 

Samira Sayed Rahman, who works for the aid organization International Rescue Committee (IRC), told DW what she saw when she visited a hospital in the eastern province of Paktia: There were not enough doctors, not enough nurses. "The doctors we spoke with have not been paid for the past six months," she said. "The wards were full of women cradling malnourished children. In the neonatal unit, three babies had to share an incubator."

 But the biggest challenge, according to Rahman from the IRC, is the suspension of payments from abroad.

For 20 years, the international community covered three-quarters of public expenditure. A plethora of development projects saw roads, schools and hospitals built and provided for their upkeep. But after the Taliban took power, the flow of money was cut off overnight.

"There were about 400,000 people employed in the public sector, plus about 200,000 in the security sector," Rahman explained. "Many of these jobs have disappeared; unemployment is higher than ever and so is inflation."

When it comes to hunger in Afghanistan, Rahman is convinced that: "This crisis is man-made; it was caused by the international community." 

Nora Hassanien of Save the Children shares that assessment, adding: "No amount of humanitarian aid will really solve the problem here. It needs a bigger-picture solution."

This is also the view of the International Crisis Group. The think tank's Afghanistan specialist Graeme Smith wrote: "Pulling back from the precipice of a more profound disaster will require ending the country's isolation, attracting development aid, and persuading Western and regional governments to help with economic recovery."

The goal of these sanctions is the economic isolation of Afghanistan, according to Conrad Schetter from the Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies (BICC). 

"The Afghans have been catapulted back into a subsistence economy." 

Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth writes that aid isn't enough without a functioning banking system that is not hamstrung by sanctions. Without access to its foreign exchange reserves, the central bank is very limited in the extent to which it can perform its role in the Afghan economy. Sanctions and the lack of foreign currency make transferring money to Afghanistan nearly impossible.

In theory, special permits can be used for humanitarian purposes. In practice, however, they are very difficult to obtain.

A spokesman from Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) described the "non-functioning banking sector, which makes it difficult to get money to Afghanistan at all," as "a major challenge in implementing the plans."

Humanitarian groups must therefore adopt unconventional methods. In an interview with DW, Elke Gottschalk, regional director for Asia for the German aid organization Welthungerhilfe, described how money transfers must be processed through alternative channels, called hawala networks. It works like this: Welthungerhilfe transfers money to the account of a hawala dealer, known as a hawaladar, in a third country. "This agent then makes sure that money arrives in Kabul — in cash. We count it, then it can be used." The International Rescue Committee is also reliant on the hawala system, Samira Sayed Rahman confirmed. However, this is "not a reliable and sustainable method." 

The administrator of the United Nations Development Program, Achim Steiner, made his position clear. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in May, he said, 'We cannot abandon 40 million Afghans simply on the principle of moral outrage."

Afghanistan is starving and the West is partly to blame | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 14.08.2022

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