0121 GMT December 02, 2021
ICRC President Peter Maurer's comments echo those of the U.N.’s special representative for Afghanistan, who warned this week that the country is “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe” and that its collapsing economy is heightening the risk of extremism. The country’s economy is estimated to have contracted by 40% since the Taliban took control in August, AP reported on Friday.
The Geneva-based ICRC, which has operated in Afghanistan for over 30 years, is temporarily carrying in bags of cash to the impoverished nation and converting dollars into the local currency, the afghani, in order to pay some of its staffers.
"The main problem in Afghanistan is not hunger. The main problem is the lack of cash to pay salaries to deliver social services which have existed before,” ICRC President Peter Maurer said.
The Taliban leadership, which recently banned all foreign currency transactions, has urged the U.S. to ease sanctions and release Afghanistan’s overseas assets in order for the government to be able to pay teachers, doctors and other public sector employees. After the Taliban takeover, the U.S. froze nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank and stopped shipments of cash.
Maurer said humanitarian organizations cannot “fix an implosion of a whole country” and that what's needed is for there to be agreement on a sufficient injection of liquidity, which he says is possible without necessarily formally recognizing the Taliban. The ICRC's budget until mid-2022 has increased from $95 million to roughly $163 million to address Afghanistan's increasingly urgent needs.
Hunger is just one of many problems facing millions in the country. The World Food Program has warned that nearly 9 million people in Afghanistan are at risk of facing “famine-like conditions.” An additional 14.1 million are suffering acute food insecurity.
Maurer said the country could slide into a hunger crisis if drought impacts food production and if the disruption of the economy continues, but he stressed the immediate crisis facing Afghanistan remains paying salaries to keep basic services functioning.