UN chief tells Security Council: Afghanistan ‘hanging by thread’

Washington-January 27 (ONLINE): Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council, calling for countries to authorize all transactions needed to carry out humanitarian activities in Afghanistan.

He also pushed for a suspension of any rules or conditions constricting “lifesaving” aid operations as millions in the country suffer extreme hunger, education and social services are on the brink of collapse, and a lack of liquidity limits the capacity of the United Nations and aid groups to reach people in need.

“We need to give financial institutions and commercial partners legal assurance that they can work with humanitarian operators without fear of breaching sanctions,” said Guterres, noting that the 15-member council last month adopted a humanitarian exemption to UN sanctions tied to Afghanistan.

Some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves remain blocked abroad and international development support has dried up since the Taliban seized power in August. Donors seek to use the money as leverage over the Taliban on issues including human rights.

“There is compelling evidence of an emerging environment of intimidation and deterioration in respect for human rights. This suggests that the consolidation of government authority may be leading toward control of the population by fear,” the UN special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the council.

In December, donors to a frozen World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund agreed to transfer $280 million to the World Food Program and UN children’s agency UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan. Guterres said the remaining $1.2 billion in the fund needed “to be freed up urgently to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter.”

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the council that Washington had moved to ensure that US sanctions do not impede humanitarian activity and it is examining various options to ease the liquidity crunch.”