Frozen Assets and Freezing Temperatures: Afghanistan faces a Starving Winter

06 December 2021

Fatima has seven kids, five girls and two boys. They are grindingly poor 

already… She has to beg for flour which used to be delivered under the old 

government before the Taliban came in… Looking at those kids, it was quite difficult… It hasn’t

happened yet, and yet you know it is just around the cornerJohn Simpson, BBC

Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented emergency of wide-spread malnutrition. Throughout the country, Afghans face extreme desperation just to put food on the table, and this is all as winter’s freezing temperatures approach. The UN has estimated that 23 million people will face emergency levels of food insecurity this winter, with five million children on the brink of famine. Yet more alarmingly, this has created the potential for five million children to starve to death imminently if humanitarian aid does not assist.

Hunger is certainly not a new issue in Afghanistan, even before the crisis that began in August, the country was home to the second largest mass of people facing emergency levels of hunger in the world, with drastic measures being taken, such as burning cowpats just to keep themselves warm. Now critical hunger, something which previously was associated only with rural populations, has become a great issue in urban areas, including Kabul.

On top of this, since the Taliban take-over in August 2021, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, as well as Western governments including the UK and US, have suspended all aid to Afghanistan on the grounds of not supporting the new Taliban government. This has been particularly disruptive because 75% of Afghanistan’s budget came from foreign aid prior to the Taliban takeover. The US has also frozen all Afghan government assets held in US banks, which currently amass to a sum of $59 billion.

This has resulted in a two-fold problem. Not only has Afghanistan lost 75% of its income, meaning those who previously relied on donated food supplies, such as Fatima, have been cut off, but equally without access to the country’s own funds, the Taliban have no way to pay import taxes on goods. This has meant purchasing basic supplies such as flour or cooking oil has become almost impossible. Right now, people queue for hours just to obtain a small amount of flour. 

The effect of these developments has been truly shocking for Afghanistan’s society. The levels of child marriage have greatly increased since the eruption of the crisis. Child marriage has been practiced in Afghanistan for centuries, however desperate poverty has driven more and more families to resort to selling their daughters for marriage at young ages. This development hits especially hard for Afghan women, whose rights have already been greatly infringed following the Taliban takeover.

It is no surprise that in such times of great hunger, the threat of civil disorder becomes a palpable concern. Mass displacement of panicked, unemployed, and staving Afghans following the withdrawal of NATO troops, alongside the banning of external flights from the country, have heightened the population’s desperation to flee their villages and country. Reporting for the Financial Times, Nikkei Asia wrote this week that the scramble for visas due to the forced closure of many embassies in Kabul, has increased their sale on the black market, from $20 to over $1000 dollars due to exploitative bribes. Likewise, there have been multiple comments from papers such as The Times, which hint towards the palpable issue of displaced and disillusioned youths becoming a fertile breeding ground for an Islamic extremist revival, either under the Taliban, or as part of Isis cells in opposition to the Taliban. 

The Taliban government has blamed the US for causing a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and that the supposed Human Rights violations committed by the Taliban should not sanction the US’s freezing of aid. On the other hand, the US, other NATO countries, and large NGOs have firmly ruled out providing aid for a Taliban government due to its pariah status. 

It must be said however, that pointing the finger of blame does not help those who are suffering.

As John Simpson has emotionally reported, the most ominous outcome for so many Afghans really is “just around the corner”. It would seem, as we head towards a critical winter for Afghanistan, the time for sanctions towards the Taliban may be over. The key to saving as many lives as possible is to view the crisis as a purely humanitarian mission; to alleviate the suffering of those who are in the direst of need. Geopolitics may simply have to wait.

Emergency appeals have popped up from large NGOs to small-scale charities. However, these are met with the further issue of navigating the Taliban to ensure all donations reach those on the ground. ACAA have been working tirelessly with our, currently under threat, volunteers to coordinate and distribute aid in Afghanistan on the ground. We have set up an emergency fundraiser to tackle this critical issue.

The money raised through ACAA’s emergency fundraiser will be directed through Western Union transfer to ACAA’s trusted volunteers in Afghanistan, former staff who, until the Taliban took control of the country, worked with us for several years. This will ensure that there is no potential for interception by the Taliban government, who have control over regular bank transactions. The ACAA will ensure that your gift is received by those who need it the very most.

Please see the link on our website to donate to our emergency fundraiser now.

By: Alex Twemlow

Resources: 

Relief Web, ‘Children dying from starvation in Kabul as ‘unprecedented’ food crisis leaves almost 14 million Afghan children hungry’

https://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/children-dying-starvation-kabul-unprecedented-food-crisis-leaves-almost-14 [Last accessed 19/11/21].

The New Humanitarian, ‘From Rural Drought to Urban Shortages: Afghanistan’s New Hungry’

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2021/10/6/rural-drought-to-urban-shortages-Afghanistans-new-hungry [Last accessed 19/11/21].

Financial Times, ‘Afghanistan’s slide to Famine must be halted’

https://www.ft.com/content/d8eff480-1c33-4316-8212-2c0bd86e1a1f [Last accessed 19/11/21].

Financial Times, ‘Afghan black market for visas thrives as embassies stay shut’

https://www.ft.com/content/72ab8c3d-fa23-47bd-a564-a9dfae30135c [Last accessed 19/11/21].

The Times, ‘The Times view on Afghanistan’s food crisis: Hunger in Kabul’, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-times-view-on-afghanistans-food-crisis-hunger-in-kabul-6j7gx7ncb [Last accessed 19/11/21].