Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 438, 15 September 2021

Afghanistan: UN warns of a mass humanitarian crisis, while donors pledge USD one billion in aid
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 13 September, the United Nations warned that millions of Afghans could run out of food before the arrival of winter, and one million children are at risk of starvation and death if their immediate needs are not met. While speaking at a high-level UN conference convened to address the crisis, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline." He added: "Let us be clear: This conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe." At the end of the meeting, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths announced that donor countries pledged a total of USD 1.2 billion in aid for Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said: "A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes. Conflict combined with drought and covid-19 is pushing the people of Afghanistan into a humanitarian catastrophe."

On 14 September, Taliban's acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi welcomed the international community's humanitarian aid pledge for Afghanistan, stating: "We ensure that the aid will be distributed transparently to the people," and called on other countries and institutions to support Afghanistan in the development sector, in education and other areas.

On 8 September, China announced that it was offering USD 31 million worth of food and health supplies, including coronavirus vaccines, to Afghanistan. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Afghanistan is "standing at the crossroads," as it faces a humanitarian crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic. On 12 September, Pakistan delivered another consignment of relief goods, including food and medical supplies, the fourth consignment of the relief goods to Afghanistan since the Taliban took over. Additionally, on 13 September, the United States announced nearly USD 64 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of State. 

Issues at large
First, the impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has been impacted by multiple calamities, including severe drought and famine affecting a third of the country. The World Food Programme has warned that food supplies could start running out, pushing the 14 million food-insecure Afghans to the brink of starvation. Additionally, since 2021, more than 550,000 people have been displaced from their homes as the country's economy and health, education, and other services remain in shambles. 

Second, the reluctance to provide humanitarian assistance. Afghanistan is one of the world's most aid-dependent countries, where donor countries have invested USD 65 billion in grants since 2002. The Taliban's return to power has triggering diplomatic isolation and cut off the international aid that drove a large portion of the Afghan economy. Although the Taliban has tried to portray a reasonable outlook to the international community, the political uncertainty and suspicions over how the Taliban's rule have only complicated the matters, with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other countries cut off Afghanistan's access to international funds.

Third, the logistic of aid distribution. The amount raised will go directly to or routed through the United Nations and non-governmental partner organizations still operating in the country and not to the Taliban. It is unclear how aid agencies and their workers will operate in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, given that the Taliban could monitor and exert influence over aid agencies and humanitarian workers.

Fourth, aid as a political tool. Apart from maintaining diplomatic ties with the Taliban, countries like China and Pakistan are using financial aid to legitimize and strengthen the regime and using it as a means of legitimizing the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan. 

In perspective
First, the expected humanitarian crisis. The impending humanitarian crisis is an inevitable situation, given that Afghanistan has been ravaged by decades-long wars. Thus, despite the politics around aid, Afghanistan was bound to face a massive humanitarian crisis. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to another war-induced humanitarian catastrophe.

Second, the Taliban's capacity to address the crisis. Despite the Taliban being more self-financed and is fed with assistance from countries like China and Pakistan, the group will not be able to manage the situation without foreign assistance. Additionally, those who will be affected continue to be the Afghans who are already in a dire state.  

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