Mon. Dec 5th, 2022

Conditions in Taliban-held Afghanistan will worsen in the coming year, and more Afghans will struggle to survive, a senior Red Cross official said.

The country will endure its second winter since the religious group seized power in August 2021 — a shock event that has fundamentally transformed Afghanistan, driving millions into poverty and hunger as foreign aid stopped almost overnight.

“The economic difficulties are there. They are very serious and people will fight for their lives,” Martin Schüepp, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, said in an interview late Sunday.

Sanctions on Taliban rulers, suspension of bank transfers and billions frozen in Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves have already limited access to global institutions and the foreign money that supported the country’s economy before the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.

The onset of winter will worsen the acute humanitarian needs that half the country is already facing, Schüepp pointed out.

“Prices are rising for a number of reasons, but the issue of sanctions has also led to huge consequences,” he said.

“We are seeing more and more Afghans who have to sell their property to make ends meet, where they have to buy heating materials, while at the same time they have to face increasing costs for food and other essentials.”

Humanitarian organizations struggle to survive

Sanctions are a challenge in getting aid and necessary supplies to the country in a timely manner, and it is crucial that all sanctions have humanitarian exemptions so that organizations like the ICRC can continue their work, he said.

The Red Cross already pays the salaries of 10,500 medical staff each month to ensure basic health services continue, he added.

“We are very aware that it is not our primary role to pay the salaries of medical staff. As a humanitarian organisation, we are not in the best position to do so. We have done this exceptionally to ensure that services continue.”

Schüepp, who was on his first visit to Afghanistan as director of operations since the Taliban took over, said the agency feeds most of the country’s prison population.

He could not immediately say how many prisoners were in Afghanistan.

“We have stepped up our support for prisons and prisoners, ensuring that food is provided in prisons across the country,” he said. “Today, about 80% of the prison population benefits from such food support.”

He described the Red Cross’ role as a “temporary measure” made necessary after the fall of the US-backed Afghan government after Washington began its final troop withdrawal in August 2021.

No country in the world has recognized the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call their administration, leaving them internationally isolated.

The religious group previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s and was ousted by the US invasion in 2001.

During the previous years in power, the Taliban carried out public executions, floggings and stonings of those convicted of crimes in Taliban courts.

After taking over Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban initially promised to be more moderate and allow women and minority rights. Instead, they hit harder on rights and freedoms.