“Afghanistan’s economy and social services are collapsing, with Afghans throughout the country already suffering acute malnutrition,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Humanitarian aid is critical, but given the crisis, governments, the UN, and international financial institutions need to urgently adjust existing restrictions and sanctions affecting the country’s economy and banking sector.”
Following the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover of Afghanistan, millions of dollars in lost income, spiking prices, a liquidity crisis, and shortages of cash have deprived much of the population of access to food, water, shelter, and health care, Human Rights Watch said.
The UN World Food Program has issued multiple warnings of worsening food insecurity and the risk of large-scale deaths from hunger throughout Afghanistan in coming months.
Several media have reported that families lacking money and food are selling their possessions and seeking to flee the country overland. Impoverished Afghans facing malnutrition have described desperate attempts to buy or forage for food, and the deaths of people unable to leave.
“The financial crisis has especially affected women and girls, who face disproportionally greater obstacles to obtaining food, health care, and financial resources. The Taliban bans that are keeping women from most paid jobs have hit households in which women were the main earners the hardest. Even in areas in which women are still allowed to work – such as education and health care – they may be unable to comply with Taliban requirements for a male family member to escort women to and from work,” read the HRW report.
Numerous banking officials and humanitarian agency staffers told Human Rights Watch that most Afghan banks cannot cover withdrawals by private actors and aid organizations. Even when funds are transmitted electronically into banks, the lack of cash means that money is not physically available and therefore cannot flow into the country’s economy, the report added.
To address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch recommends that Governments, the UN, the World Bank, and the Taliban should work to reach an agreement to allow the Afghan Central Bank access to the international banking system.
“As an initial step, the US Treasury Department and other financial authorities should issue licenses and guidance to allow the Central Bank to engage in limited settlement transactions with outside private banks so that the bank can pay its World Bank dues and process or settle incoming dollar deposits from legitimate private depositors, such as UNICEF, the UN Development Program, remittance banks, and other legitimate actors,” it added further.
“Donor generosity and humanitarian pledges can’t overcome the stark reality that UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and the Afghan diaspora cannot send assets to a banking system that isn’t functioning, and account holders in Afghanistan can’t withdraw cash that isn’t there,” Sifton said.
“Widespread death and suffering from hunger are preventable if governments act urgently to address Afghanistan’s economic crisis,” Sifton added.