KABUL (dispatches) – More than 22 million Afghans will suffer food insecurity this winter, they UN said, as a drought driven by climate change adds to the disruption caused by the Taliban takeover of the country.
“This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme.
The crisis is already bigger in scale than the shortages facing war-torn Yemen or Syria, and worse than any food insecurity emergency apart from the Democratic Republic of Congo, officials told AFP.
Nearly $10 billion in Afghanistan’s national assets have been held by the U.S. Federal Reserve since the Taliban laid siege to Kabul in August and overthrew the U.S.-backed government.
Moscow is outraged as Europe and the United States remain reluctant to unfreeze Kabul’s financial assets, Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said on Monday.
“We are talking about the country’s assets, not those of the Taliban movement that is currently in power... As far as we know, over $8 billion out of the total $9 billion in assets are in the U.S., while $1.5 billion remain frozen in Europe. This is absolutely revolting, the assets must be unfrozen”, Kabulov said at a press conference, RIA Novosti reported.
According to the Taliban government, about $9-$10 billion in Afghan funds have been frozen in western banks.
The cabinet asked the United States and about 15 European countries to unfreeze the funds, but there was no response, according to the Afghan government spokesman.
UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned of “make or break moment” for Afghanistan, with the economic institutions slowly breaking down in the country.
According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, around 23 million Afghans will be facing “crisis” (IPC Phase 3) or “emergency” (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity, unless basic food needs are met. Phase 4 is one step from a famine.
The food warnings came in the wake of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid’s recent comments on humanitarian crisis facing the country.
“We are trying to arrange and distribute, including food and clothing. All worries will be resolved,” Mujahid was quoted as saying by the AFP on Saturday.
“Regarding the drought, we hope to have a wet winter. But if the drought continues we will take appropriate measures in the spring,” he added.
In his remarks to Reuters on Monday, Beasley raised an alarm over children’s situation in the war-torn country. He said children are “going to die” and things are “going to get a lot worse.”
“I don’t know how you don’t have millions of people, and especially children, dying at the rate we are going with the lack of funding and the collapsing of the economy,” he said.
The food crisis, exacerbated by climate change, was dire in Afghanistan even before the Taliban came to power, whose new government has been blocked from accessing assets held overseas.
Under the previous U.S.-backed government in Kabul, around 43 percent of the South Asian country’s GDP came from foreign aid, according to the World Bank.
But still, as former president Ashraf Ghani admitted July last year, 90 percent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, with less than $2 daily income.
A report by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in January this year noted that around 18.4 million people in Afghanistan were in need.
Beasley said the frozen funds should be channeled through the agency, in order to be used for management of the crisis.
“You’ve got to unfreeze these funds so people can survive,” he asserted.
The UN food agency needs up to $220 million a month to partially feed tens of millions of vulnerable people in Afghanistan as the winter approaches.