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Op-Ed Humanitarian Crisis Afghanistan

Last August, I wrote in this paper about how the events of that month were going to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans. Six months later and we are watching one of the worst humanitarian crises ever unfold before our eyes.

There is a stark difference between Afghanistan and the world’s other crises. This is not a crisis that has been triggered by war or climate or natural disaster. As David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: this is a 'catastrophe of choice', the direct result of decisions taken by the same western governments that withdrew chaotically from Kabul last August. First, the people of Afghanistan were abandoned to the Taliban and now they are abandoned to malnutrition and starvation.

In a briefing I received from an NGO last week, I was told that Afghan women are experiencing much greater levels of domestic violence as their husbands and fathers are staying at home. Their question to western governments is: 'why are you starving us and our daughters in the name of women's rights?'

We in Ireland are not idle watchers. We have a seat at the UN Security Council, we have a say in the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council and we have many friends in Washington and abroad. Our current decision, to simply follow the US and President Biden's crass and shameful decision to steal Afghan assets for the benefit of 9/11 relatives, is a choice in itself. It is a choice that will lead to a generation of Afghans growing up malnourished, if they make it through the coming weeks and months.

40 years of conflict and crises in Afghanistan have reduced the country to a destitute state, thus reducing its ability to react to the shock it is currently facing. While the politics of the crisis are complex, efforts to isolate the de-facto authorities will only produce further suffering for the Afghan population.

There are a number of easy workable solutions that will have tangible benefits on the ground. First, Ireland and the EU must call for a reversal of President Biden’s decision and demand a phased release of Afghan assets. The sanctions and asset freezes designed to hurt the Taliban are only hurting the Afghan people. Banks have closed down as it is nearly impossible to get cash in and out of the country. The private sector has disappeared and labourers are only being paid for one day of work a week.

If a humanitarian crisis is to be averted, liquidity must be restored.

Second, a functioning central bank is key for any sort of economic recovery. The EU and Ireland should support a joint World Bank/International Monetary Fund mission to Afghanistan to see what can be done.

Third, the EU must clarify the sanctions regulations on the Taliban so that NGOs can provide the necessary aid to those who need it most. Finally, and perhaps the most obvious, there is a need for urgent humanitarian funding to feed the population.

According to reports, the current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war. If we really want to protect women’s rights and to protect the development gains of the 21st century, stopping a famine and averting a humanitarian crisis is the first step.

There is always money for war but not for poverty.

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