Dear Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives Mona Juul, Sven Jürgenson, Dame Barbara Woodward and Geraldine Byrne Nason,
Three months after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the country is sprinting towards a humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented scale. The economy and the banking system are on the brink of collapse. The abrupt cut-off of foreign funding to the Afghan state in August has left hundreds of thousands of public sector employees without pay and the health system is in a shambles. A harsh winter is approaching. Without swift pragmatic action from the international community, there will be famine, suffering, death, migration flows and potential destabilisation. Millions of lives are at risk.
We welcome the commitments that have recently been made to flash appeals for humanitarian support to Afghanistan, as well as initiatives such as UNDP’s Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan, for the “people’s economy”. These are encouraging steps, but the crisis in Afghanistan does not end because money is pledged, or even paid into bank accounts. To be able to scale up, aid actors need to be able to access the banking system.
Not enough cash
The Afghan financial system is at a breaking point. Afghan banks are mainly isolated from the international monetary system, meaning that they receive or send transfers of money from or to abroad to a minimal extent. The main reason is that the US sanctions regime forbids most monetary transactions to Afghan banks due to the risk that they could benefit the Taliban regime.
Right now, Afghan banks cannot cover withdrawals by aid organisations and Afghan private citizens. There simply is not enough cash available in the country. The situation is extremely serious. In October WFP and FAO stated that almost 23 million Afghans, more than half of the population, will face “acute food insecurity”. The lack of food puts lives and livelihoods in immediate danger. More than 3 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. At least 1 million of these children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition unless they receive immediate treatment.
We represent a large number of European NGOs that have decades of multi-programmatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan. We reach millions of girls and boys, women and men. We have been able to do so also in recent years, in areas predominantly controlled by the Taliban.
We urge you as a recipient of this letter to urgently act within mandate of the Security Council and also to use your position of influence to put pressure on other relevant actors.
To avoid a total collapse of Afghanistan’s financial systems, we recommend the following measures:
Facilitating a functioning banking system that allows actors to bring in funding in a predictable manner to carry out programmes and pay staff salaries.
The UN Security Council members and other governments must urgently secure liquidity and the availability of cash to address the deepening humanitarian crisis.
The UN Security Council should provide for a humanitarian exception mechanism within the 1988 Sanctions regime. It should take action to ensure that legitimate financial transactions related to humanitarian activities and development assistance fall within such an exception.
These actions require political will, to save a whole nation of some 40 million people that are now pushed towards starvation and death. The time for action is now, it cannot wait.
Andreas Stefansson, Secretary General, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan
On behalf of the European Network of NGOs in Afghanistan, ENNA.
BAAG (representing 30 British and Irish NGOs), CAFOD, Christian Aid, Cordaid, DACAAR, EMERGENCY, Health Prom, MADERA (one of the founding members of the COFA, Collectif des ONG Françaises en Afghanistan), Mondo, Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, Norwegian Church Aid, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan