Thursday, May 19

The people of Afghanistan are starving; turning your back on them is morally wrong | gordon brown

HHow can it be that, in these first weeks of 2022, the world is allowing millions of Afghan children to face death from starvation? And this after months during which the UN, a score of governments, the EU and the Arab League, not to mention former US military commanders, ambassadors and humanitarian workers, have been publicly calling for immediate action to stop the growing cascade of lost Afghan lives. to hunger and malnutrition.

On Tuesday, Martin Griffiths and Filippo Grandi, UN refugee and humanitarian coordinators, once again begged the countries to send urgent food and supplies. They announced the largest humanitarian appeal made since 1945 to a single country, a request for $ 4.5 billion to help more than 23 million Afghans. on the brink of hunger.

Because the devastation the world was warned of months ago is no longer a distant prospect. “Let us eat”Was the stark banner under which the protesters demonstrated a few days ago in Kabul, while assurances of assistance made by world powers in August have faded in a trail of broken promises. Dawn in Afghanistan sees long lines of women and children outside bakeries for the only staple still available, bread, and even that is in short supply due to a 40% drop in wheat production after the worst drought in decades. . Griffiths predicts that if we don’t act, 97% of Afghans You could soon be living below the poverty line. In other words, to be Afghan today is to be condemned to extreme poverty or destitution.

Aid workers are finding children huddled under threadbare blankets in temporary camps and shacks or lying wrapped in their mothers’ burqas outside hospitals waiting for treatment that is simply not available. As of August, 30 million Afghans were dependent on World Bank-administered medical care. Now, more than 90% of the country’s health clinics lack the funds to stay open. Only 11% of Afghans have had a Covid vaccine.

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International humanitarian workers are doing their best to keep food aid moving, some clinics running, and some schools open for boys and girls. But their work is undermined and any progress is negated by the withdrawal of aid money that previously posted for 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP and financed 75% of public spending, and for the freezing of banking transactions and trade with Afghanistan, with the result that little private cash also circulates.

This is the New World Order revealed in its most selfish and morally flawed form: countries are locked in the narrow nationalism of “America first”, “Britain first”, “China first”, “Russia first”, “my tribe. first “and trapped in a geopolitics that puts military and economic sanctions before food for the hungry. Even after the contribution of US $ 308 million On January 12, the US-led coalition of 35 countries that ruled Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people has still contributed just a quarter of the money that would allow UN humanitarian workers to prevent the children die this winter.

This is not an isolated incident. Our liberal world order is proving to be neither liberal nor orderly. What has also been destroying thousands of lives in the last year is an equally counterproductive failure to vaccinate, test, and treat poor people around the world, with the result that we have spawned new variants of Covid, putting ourselves at risk. everybody. We are now witnessing an equally shameful and counterproductive failure to prevent famine. Our reluctance to act is not just a moral outrage, it will have real-world consequences. These may take the form of a mass westward migration, increased heroin production, and the recruitment of terrorists who will claim that the world’s inaction proves that coexistence is impossible.

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The UN security council finally agreed to offer financial institutions and commercial actors legal guarantees that they will not violate sanctions if they engage with humanitarian organizations. It is an important step, but one that does not yet guarantee that enough help will arrive. Therefore, we must make the $ 4.5 billion humanitarian appeal a success and augment it with all the $ 1.5 billion currently in trust at the World Bank for Afghanistan (currently only $ 280 million has been released).

But even these initiatives amount to just 30 pence a day per person in Afghanistan for all their food, shelter, medical care and education, and they are nothing more than stopgap measures to help us through the winter. Humanitarian programs alone cannot replace the 75% of public spending that until August came from foreign aid agencies, nor can they replace the government provision networks built before the takeover that are now collapsing.

Therefore, we must find a way to ensure that dollars can enter the country, or that local banks issue a stable Afghan currency, so that food and salaries for teachers and health workers can be paid. Nothing should detract from our condemnation of the regime’s repression, human rights abuses and extrajudicial executions. They should not receive political recognition for any help we give to the Afghan people. But on the condition of demonstrable progress, for example on women’s and girls’ rights and with the help of the UN and NGOs, some economic sanctions could be relaxed. If the killings stop and there is a more inclusive government, some development assistance could begin.

The next step should be a UN-backed pledging conference, and I have written to both the UK Foreign Secretary and the EU President to ask them to convene it jointly. The Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – have the money and have made offers to provide assistance, but fear an American backlash. Realistically, it will require the US to break the traffic jam and end the cycle of starvation and death.

Turning away now from ordinary Afghans in their hour of greatest need would be the final insult: a badge of shame that the free world would wear forever. On a visit to Kabul a few days ago, my colleague from the organization I chair, Education Cannot Wait, met a girl who was begging to go back to school. His name was Arezou. It is the dari word for desire, indeed for hope. And it is hope that we must offer her and the desperate Afghan people. Now.

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