The words of ICRC President Peter Maurer echo those of the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, who this week warned that the country was “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe” and that the collapse of its economy increased the risk of extremism. The country’s economy is estimated to have contracted by 40 percent since the Taliban took control in August.
The Geneva-based ICRC, which has operated in Afghanistan for more than 30 years, temporarily brings bags of money to the impoverished nation and converts dollars into local currency in order to pay some of its employees.
A lack of money
The ICRC was able to do so with regulatory approval from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department. The ICRC also has an agreement with the Taliban-led health ministry that allows donor-funded payments to go through the ICRC and bypass the Taliban, which has yet to be officially recognized by any country.
“The main problem in Afghanistan is not hunger. The main problem is the lack of money to pay salaries and provide social services that existed before, ”Maurer told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday during a visit to Dubai.
“Let’s not forget that most of these doctors, nurses, water and electricity network operators are still the same people. It is the leadership that has changed, but not these people.
Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was plunged into deep turmoil after the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul in August and the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government just weeks before the U.S. -United do not withdraw their last troops.
Bank transfers are not an option
The Taliban leadership, which recently banned all foreign currency transactions, urged the US Congress to ease sanctions and release Afghan assets abroad so the government can pay teachers, doctors and other employees of the public sector.
Following the Taliban takeover, the United States froze nearly US $ 9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank and halted cash shipments.
Since the Taliban took power last summer, it has not been possible for international aid organizations to transfer payments to accounts in Afghanistan, as international currency cannot currently be changed to local currency. through a network of banks in the country.
Maurer said humanitarian organizations cannot “fix the implosion of a whole country”. He said there needs to be an agreement on a sufficient injection of cash – something he believes is possible without officially recognizing the Taliban.
The ICRC’s budget until mid-2022 has increased from US $ 95 million to around US $ 163 million to meet the increasingly urgent needs of Afghanistan.
Hunger is just one of the many problems facing millions of people in the country. The World Food Program has warned that nearly 9 million people in Afghanistan are at risk of “famine-like conditions.” 14.1 million more are acutely food insecure.
Services must continue
Maurer said the country could slide into a hunger crisis if the drought impacts food production and the disruption of the economy continues, but he stressed that the immediate crisis to which Afghanistan continues to pay salaries to keep basic services running.
“People who don’t get enough food will get sick,” Maurer said. “If the health system is unable to cope with fragile health, then it is again a problem. I am therefore concerned about the interconnectivity of food, health, water, sanitation, electricity and the education system.
The former Swiss-born diplomat visited Kandahar and other parts of Afghanistan in early September, just days after the US withdrawal. During this visit, he met with one of the main Taliban leaders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The ICRC says Maurer’s visit and his meeting with Baradar reflect the humanitarian organization’s principle of neutrality and aimed to send a clear message that the group would continue to provide services to those in need on the ground, regardless of or the leader.