Afghanistan on brink of ‘universal poverty’, millions will be affected: UN envoy

Afghanistan was in danger of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order” without an infusion of money and it could push millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger. UN special envoy Deborah Lyons on Thursday urged the world to come together to prevent the collapse of the Afghan economy.

Lyons said the worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan must be addressed now, while warning there is another “looming crisis” caused by the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan assets. Lyons said the freeze will cause “a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger” and may spark an exodus of refugees and set the country back for generations.

“The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from human rights, gender, and counter-terrorism perspective,” Lyons told the 15-member UN Security Council.

Lyons said ways must be found to provide humanitarian relief “on a huge scale.” There is also a need, she said, to quickly allow money to flow to Afghanistan to “prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” though while creating safeguards to ensure the money is not misused by the Taliban authorities.

The Afghanistan central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held in the United States, was frozen after the collapse of the former Western-backed government. The US treasury department said it is not easing Taliban sanctions or loosening curbs on the Taliban’s access to the global financial system. Afghanistan was also to access about $450 million on August 23 from the International Monetary Fund, but the IMF blocked the release because of a “lack of clarity” about a new government.

She also warned that the Taliban have already “visibly welcomed and sheltered” al Qaeda members, and Islamic State extremists remain active “and could gain strength.” She told the UN Security Council it will have to decide how to engage with many of the 33 members of the Taliban government who are on the UN sanctions blacklist, including the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers and the foreign minister.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told the council that humanitarian aid is critical and Afghanistan’s frozen assets should be released soon. “Afghanistan is on the verge of an economic collapse” that will create a larger humanitarian crisis and exacerbate migration in the region and the world, he said.

Deputy Chinese Ambassador Geng Shuang also urged the assets’ release. “These assets belong to Afghanistan and should be used for Afghanistan, not as leverage for threat or restraints,” Geng said.

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