Mar 22, 2022
Human rights advocates are demanding that the United States immediately release billions of dollars which it seized from Afghanistan's Central Bank after ending its 20-year military occupation of the country last year, causing a devastating hunger crisis that has already killed thousands of Afghan newborns in 2022.
"The country needs a functioning Central Bank. Aid is not enough."
With 95% of the country unable to access sufficient food due to the currency crisis, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported last week that 13,000 newborn babies have died of malnutrition and hunger-related diseases since January, warning that "time is running out" to address hunger in the impoverished country.
After spending months sitting on more than $9 billion it seized from the central bank last summer after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the Biden administration last month announced it would commit $3.5 billion to unspecified humanitarian efforts.
But as HRW reported last week, the U.S. sanctions on the Taliban have left international banks wary of allowing aid groups to transfer funds into the country, while currency shortages are forcing Afghan banks to limit withdrawals.
"The country needs a functioning central bank," said Birgit Schwarz, a communications manager for the organization. "Aid is not enough."
\u201cSince the beginning of the year, roughly 13,000 newborns have died from malnutrition & hunger-related diseases in #Afghanistan.\n\nThat is on average more than 170 babies every single day\u203c\ufe0f\n\nThe country needs a functioning Central Bank.\n\nAid is not enough.\n\nhttps://t.co/hKOYjoCvmR\u201d— Birgit Schwarz (@Birgit Schwarz) 1647591794
As Ryan Cooper wrote at The American Prospect last month, the seizure of Afghan funds has "caused all the problems one might expect."
"The banking system has ceased to function," he wrote. "Businesses can't find credit and have resorted to mass bankruptcies and layoffs; people can't get enough cash; the country can't afford necessary imports; and the value of the currency is collapsing."
CodePink noted that the Biden administration's decision to split the funds it seized last year, reserving $3.5 billion for families who lost loved ones on September 11--over the objections of many of those family members--"undoubtedly exacerbated this horrific crisis."
According to a report last week by the BBC, hospitals run by charities like Doctors Withour Borders (MSF) have become "completely overwhelmed."
"One in every five children admitted to critical care is dying," wrote Yogita Limaye, "and the situation at the hospital has been made worse in recent weeks by the spread of the highly contagious measles disease that damages the body's immune system, a deadly blow for babies already suffering from malnutrition."
While the director of one humanitarian group told HRW last week that children across the country "are only skin on bones now," Cooper noted that "there is likely enough food in Afghanistan for all Afghans to survive, and in any case more could be imported as needed."
"The main problem is the shattering recession and currency crisis that has crushed the Afghan economy since American troops withdrew," he wrote. "Occupation spending accounted for about 40% of the country's GDP, and three-quarters of its government budget. Most Afghans can't afford food that would otherwise be readily available."
The country's hunger crisis is "absolutely heartbreaking" as well as "preventable," said MSNBC journalist Mehdi Hasan.
According to Sara Sirota of The Intercept, lawmakers including Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are calling on the Biden administration "to move more quickly to try to... loosen up the banking system."
"We absolutely could be moving more money more quickly," said Murphy on Monday.
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