As the West cuts aid lifelines, Afghanistan’s real crisis looms
The world must take action now to prevent a deep and lasting humanitarian crisis. But what, if anything, can be done?
On 13 September, nearly a month after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres convened a conference in Geneva to raise at least $600m in aid for the country. Donors outdid themselves, pledging more than $1bn, and Guterres hailed the generosity as a sign of international solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. The money, he said, would allow the UN to help Afghans “ in their time of dire need “.
It’s true. Afghanistan’s need is great even though the country sits on a wealth of natural resources. This great need led the World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to visit Kabul on 20 September.
The $1bn agreed by donors is merely a short-term fix. Substantial chunks will go to the World Food Programme and the WHO to provide desperately needed food and to keep essential health facilities open.
But emergency aid cannot — and will not — solve the larger issue: How will Afghanistan continue to operate when neither the government nor the people have much hard cash, nor any prospects for getting it? The growing desperation is evident in the 14 September appeal by the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, for the US to release Afghanistan’s foreign reserves. “America is a big country, they need to have a big heart,” Muttaqi said.
One of the world’s least developed countries by UN metrics, Afghanistan has been heavily dependent on overseas aid for the past 20 years.
In March, five months before the Taliban takeover, the World Bank noted that aid accounted for 42.9% of Afghanistan’s GDP. That was better than in 2009, when aid was 100% of GDP. But it still meant that Afghanistan’s service sector, as well as jobs and income were securely tied to what the World Bank described as “declining foreign grants” in the second decade of the US’s longest war.
After the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul, even those foreign grants have gone and the $1bn will not pay to run the government.
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