Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 467, 23 December 2021

Afghanistan: UN and US to lift sanctions to allow humanitarian aid
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan

In the news
On 20 December, the United Nations Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths held a special session with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Foreign Ministers regarding the economic situation in Afghanistan. As a result, to deal with the crisis, the OIC set up a humanitarian trust fund, food security program, and a special envoy appointed to Afghanistan.

On 21 December, around 200 protestors marched to Kabul, demanding the US to release the frozen foreign assets. The Taliban allowed the protest as the future of the country seemed dire. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington was "looking intensely at ways to put more liquidity into the Afghan economy…." to help the people of Afghanistan cope with the crisis.

On 22 December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to permit the removal of a few sanctions to facilitate humanitarian aid to the country. The resolution was sponsored by the US and will be effective for a year. The decision came after the UNICEF warned about the "alarming disruptions in health and nutrition services" in the country and "a disastrous food crisis," with the pandemic, loss of foreign aid and frozen currency reserves.
 
Issues at large
First, the dire situation in Afghanistan. According to the World Food Program reports, "drought, economic collapse and hunger push Afghanistan to brink of famine". The problem was worrisome as United Nations Development Programme said: "it took five years of war in Syria for its economy to contract as much as Afghanistan's has since August." Health care facilities in Afghanistan had run out of essential medicines and paychecks due to the sanctions in place. Around USD 600 million funds for health care aid were frozen after the Taliban seized power. Foreign aid, which used to keep the public expenditure afloat, as it contributed to 75 per cent of the country's expenses, had now stopped.

Second, the US draft resolution. The US halted most of its aid after the Taliban took over and froze USD 9.5 billion foreign reserves. But, due to the fragile economy, harsh winters and a possible refugee crisis, the US recalled its previous resolutions towards Afghanistan. Instead, the US acted under the Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to send humanitarian assistance to support the country's basic needs, which were not in violation of paragraph one of the charter.

Third, the role of international organizations. Organizations like Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies were deeply concerned about the harsh winters coming. Even the UN had urged donors to help the organizations to reach their commitments so that societies would be able to pay for their humanitarian programs. However, a few organizations have demanded the new government to meet certain conditions, like guaranteeing women's rights to receive aid. Around 18 million Afghans urgently need humanitarian assistance.
Fourth, international responses. China blocked a broader version of the draft that the US had prepared to deal with the development assistance but allowed the current humanitarian assistance resolution to pass. As a result, the world bank has assured to transfer USD 280 million to UNICEF and the World food program to facilitate humanitarian aid. At the same time, the OIC countries had already decided to set up a humanitarian trust fund and food security program for Afghanistan through a Saudi-based Islamic development bank.
 
In perspective
First, even though the UN has lifted sanctions, it will take at least a few months for aid to make it to the people. Second, Biden's administration understood the critical the situation and sponsored the draft to tackle the situation. Third, international organizations have mixed responses as a few are still sceptical of the funds directly reaching the people. Fourth, while China had blocked the broader version of the draft, the new draft is a start to better the country's situation.

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