KABUL (Dispatches) – Afghanistan’s central bank said Wednesday that the Taliban had seized more than $12 million in cash and gold from the homes of former government officials, as it called for all transactions to be made in local currency.
A foreign exchange crunch in the aid-dependent country threatens the Taliban’s rule one month after they seized power.
Most government employees have yet to return to work -- and in many cases salaries had already not been paid for months -- leaving millions scrambling to make ends meet.
Even those with money in the bank are struggling, as branches limit withdrawals to the equivalent of $200 a week -- with customers having to queue for hours.
And while remittances have resumed from abroad, customers awaiting funds at international chains such as Western Union and MoneyGram complained Wednesday that branches they visited had run out of cash.
The developments come as a UN official said Tuesday that four million Afghans are facing “a food emergency” and the majority live in rural areas where $36 million is urgently needed for the coming months to ensure the planting of winter wheat, feed for livestock, and cash assistance for vulnerable families, the elderly and disabled.
Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, told reporters at UN headquarters in a video briefing from Kabul that 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and there is a severe drought affecting 7.3 million Afghans in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces. These vulnerable rural communities have also been hit by the pandemic, he said.
Paulsen said 4 million Afghans are facing a humanitarian emergency, characterized by “extreme gaps in food consumption, very high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality.”
He said agriculture is “indispensable” to the Afghan population. He said it accounts for just over 25% of the country’s GDP, directly employs some 45% of the workforce, “and most importantly it provides livelihood benefits for fully 80% of the Afghan population.”
Many vulnerable families rely on livestock for food, he said, but 3 million animals are at risk as a result of the drought leaving inadequate pasture.
Paulsen said the winter wheat planting season -- the most important in Afghanistan -- is threatened by “challenges of the cash and banking system” as well as challenges to markets and agricultural items.
Since the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, fears have grown that Afghanistan could face economic collapse. Many banks have been closed, those that are open have limited cash withdrawals, and prices for staples have increased.
“More than half of Afghans’ daily calorific intake comes from wheat,” Paulsen said. “The crop is simply indispensable in food security terms” and farmers must start to plant now.
“FAO has resources in place to support an extra 1.25 million Afghans but much more is needed,” he said. “The seeds can’t wait, the farmers can’t wait. This window is requiring an urgent scale and support for donors now.”
He said the FAO’s package of wheat, fertilizer and support for a single farmer costs $150.
He also said more than 400,000 Afghans are displaced from their homes, mainly from rural areas, “and those numbers are rising.” He said keeping farmers in their fields and herders with their flocks is critical to preventing a deepening displacement crisis.