UN chief: Afghanistan facing “make or break moment”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges the Taliban to guarantee the rights and freedoms of Afghans, especially of women, saying they are crucial to stopping Afghanistan from slipping into the abyss.

By Robin Gomes

As Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis worsens in the face of an economic collapse, the United Nations chief is urging the international community to take action as the country faces a “make or break moment”.   Currently, at least 18 million people or about half of the country’s population are affected, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.  “If we do not act and help Afghans weather this storm, and do it soon, not only they but all the world will pay a heavy price”, he warned, speaking to journalists in New York on Monday.

“Without food, without jobs, without their rights protected, we will see more and more Afghans fleeing their homes in search of a better life. The flow of illicit drugs, criminal and terrorist networks will also likely increase”, he said ahead of Tuesday’s crucial meeting in Rome of the G20 leading industrialized group of nations.  “This,” he said, “will not only badly affect Afghanistan itself, but also the region and the rest of the world.”

UN committed to Afghan people

Despite many challenges, the UN has “a massive humanitarian operation in the country,” in which it is being assisted mostly by Afghans.  Guterres said that UN agencies and other non-governmental organizations are in a “race against time” to deliver life-saving aid and are get supplies ready ahead of winter.   “They won’t let up”, he assured.

In September alone, the UN provided food assistance to more than 3.8 million people; 21,000 children and 10,000 women received treatment for acute malnutrition and 32,000 people received non-food items including blankets and warm clothes for winter.  The UN is also providing primary and secondary healthcare, children’s educational activities, livelihood support to farmers and herders, water to drought-affected people, and psycho-social and mental health support.

The Secretary-General said that UN agencies have been acting with the cooperation of the Taliban, “who have progressively granted access to the areas requested and provided security when needed”.

Breathe life into economy

While reiterating that “humanitarian assistance saves lives”, the UN chief warned that “it will not solve the problem if the economy of Afghanistan collapses.”  Before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the country’s fragile economy had been kept afloat by foreign aid over the past twenty years.  Right now, with assets frozen and development aid paused, Guterres said “the economy is breaking down” with banks closing and essential services, such as healthcare, suspended in many places.

He said there is a need to find ways to “make the economy breathe again,” “without violating international laws or compromising principles”.  Injecting liquidity to prevent Afghanistan’s economic collapse, he argued, is a separate issue from recognition of the Taliban, lifting sanctions, unfreezing frozen assets or restoring international aid.  This can be done through UN agencies as well as non-governmental organizations operating in the country.

Women crucial to Afghanistan’s recovery

According to the UN’s top official, “the main responsibility for finding a way back from the abyss lies with those that are now in charge in Afghanistan”.  On regaining control of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of United States troops, the Taliban had promised that rights of Afghan citizens, including women, children, minority communities, former government employees, would be protected.   Guterres expressed alarm the Taliban were breaking their promises.

Since their takeover, the Taliban have – at various times – promised Afghan citizens — including women, children, minority communities, former government employees — that they would protect their rights.

He stressed that the possibility of women to move, work, and enjoy their basic rights is central to this promise.  He commended “the courage, resilience and determination of Afghan women and girls”, noting that since 2001, in the absence of the Taliban, who were against women’s education, 3 million girls have enrolled in school and, on average, education has increased from six years to 10.

“Broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan”, he stressed, adding, “Women and girls need to be the centre of attention”.  About 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s economy is informal and dominated by women.  Hence, “without them, there is no way the Afghan economy and society will recover”, the UN chief pointed out. He thus appealed to the Taliban to “keep their promises to women and girls and fulfil their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law”.

Guterres said the UN is permanently engaging with the Taliban on the safety and security of its staff, humanitarian assistance and unhindered access for all, including female staff, and human rights with a particular focus on women and girls’ rights.  (Source: UN)

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