New York, NY, March 4, 2022 — As the world’s attention shifts to the conflict and displacement crisis in Ukraine, the IRC calls on the world to not neglect Afghanistan. The international community should seize this window of opportunity in Afghanistan to prevent famine, save lives, and put an end to the horrific conditions facing women and girls. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) welcomes recent steps by the United States and others in the international community to scale up support for Afghans and address the economic crisis. As we look to the Afghanistan donor pledging conference at the end of March, the IRC calls for continued attention, a scale up of life saving humanitarian aid, and policy changes to alleviate the economic crisis that is tipping the scale towards preventable death and suffering.
Amanda Catanzano, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at the IRC, said, “We applaud the recent good work done by the US and other donor governments to alleviate the suffering in Afghanistan. Specifically, the World Bank board’s decision to provide $1 billion from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to UN agencies and aid organizations operating in the country. These funds will help restore essential health and education services that have been paralyzed since August, when donors froze funds that made up 75% of public spending. This funding will also help Afghans rebuild their livelihoods at a time of record food insecurity when nearly 9 million Afghans live on the brink of famine. Given the severity of this crisis, these funds should be distributed immediately and also used to pay civil servants like health care workers and teachers, many of whom have not received salaries in more than seven months.
“The IRC also welcomes the US government’s recent action to clarify the limits of US sanctions and provide a new license to authorize commercial and financial activity in Afghanistan. Together with the World Bank funds, these steps will help reduce the chilling effect that sanctions have had on the private sector in Afghanistan and ensure sufficient imports of food, fuel, electricity, and other basic items - a critical step for a country as import dependent as Afghanistan. This clarity will also enable vital financial transactions and technical assistance to the central bank that will help stabilize the economy. As the past seven months have demonstrated, humanitarian aid cannot replace a functional economy, which affects nearly every aspect of life for 40 million Afghans.
“We urge the international community to build on this momentum - these welcome policy moves should be the beginning not the end. After six months of uncertainty for Afghans, these decisions represent vital action and recognition that Afghans need more than short-term emergency aid. The IRC has 3,000 staff members working across Afghanistan. Our staff see how the situation for ordinary Afghans worsens with every day that goes by without action.”
Funding needs for the humanitarian response in Afghanistan have more than tripled since last year yet the response lacks 87% of the funding required. As donors convene this month for a pledging conference, they should scale up funding for humanitarian aid and commit to policy changes to alleviate the economic crisis. A top priority should be charting forward a path for engagement in the economic crisis in Afghanistan, including a plan for supporting technical capacity at the central bank and a roadmap for releasing frozen Afghan assets, to ensure Afghans are not facing an even worse humanitarian catastrophe next year.
Until sweeping measures are taken to restore the Afghanistan economy, people will suffer and lives will be lost. Women and girls are especially at risk, and the IRC calls for urgent action to save lives and avert famine.
The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988, and now works with thousands of villages across ten provinces, with Afghans making up more than 99% of IRC staff in the country. As Afghanistan struggles to recover from ongoing conflict and natural disasters, the IRC: works with local communities to identify, plan and manage their own development projects, provides safe learning spaces in rural areas, community based education, cash distribution provides uprooted families with tents, clean water, sanitation and other basic necessities, and helps people find livelihood opportunities as well as extensive resilience programming.