by Eliza Miller
Eliza Miller is a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, studying an MSc in International Relations of the Middle East. Her research focuses on the relationship between Europe and MENA through politics, migration, human rights, and security.
Afghanistan is staring down numerous interconnected crises. Everything from their broken diplomatic relations, to their collapsing economy, to the everyday ramifications of the Taliban’s macroscale, religio-ideational policies. In addition, the Afghan people are living through failed statehood, a violent cultural reinterpretation, multiple natural disasters, and the routinisation of gendered structural violence which will be at the foundation of any state the Taliban try to build.
According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Afghanistan is facing a variety of interconnected crises: economic, displacement, hunger and malnutrition, healthcare, and natural disasters; none of which are being addressed by the Taliban.
The already difficult situation has drastically worsened in the 10 months since the US-led withdrawal. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) explains that the socio-ecoonomic strides of the last 20 years are now in jeopardy. The last time projections were updated for 2022, the percentage of Afghanistan forecasted to be living in “universal poverty” was 97%. That’s 97% of Afghans living below the World Bank-designated international poverty line of $1.90 a day.
As poverty becomes increasingly widespread, acute malnutrition is spiking across the country with 93% of households reporting that they experience insufficient food consumption. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) predict that at least 55% of the population fall within the “crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity” that see “Afghan children starving to death nearly every day”.
The recent earthquake which saw over 1,000 deaths and 1,500 injured, as well as the ongoing drought, are compounding the food and economic instability while exacerbating hunger and poverty rates.
Hunger and poverty both cascade into every other area of life such as education, healthcare, and women’s rights. While there are a host of contributing factors not to be discounted, one of the root causes of the Afghans’ loss of access to their basic necessities are the economic shockwaves as a result of the Taliban takeover.
Afghanistan’s economic turmoil stems back to, at least, the 1979 Soviet invasion. Since then, there have been droves of people fleeing imperialist invasions and domestic conflict.
The country has had to face continually stalling trade routes, the Taliban’s 1995 takeover, the 1998 sanctions against the Taliban for harbouring Al Qaeda, the 2001 US invasion, 20 years of failed state-building efforts by the western coalition, and the Taliban’s 2021 recapturing of the country.
In this context, it is easy to understand how Afghanistan has become structurally dependent on foreign aid.
“Aid dependency is defined as when aid comprises around 10% of GDP”
“when in the absence of aid the state fails to perform many of its core functions”.
Concerning the first criteria, the World Bank highlights that foreign aid was equal to an enormous 45% of Afghanistan’s GDP prior to 15 August 2021. As regards the second criteria, due to the numerous economic sanctions in place, Afghanistan has been largely cut off from the foreign aid they greatly depend upon, as well as the global economy at large.
This includes access to their state funds and overseas assets when the Taliban recaptured the state. Without the significant cash inflow from foreign funders and without access to their finances, the World Bank estimates Afghanistan has reduced public spending by approximately 60%. This has resulted in a serious disruption of even the most basic services.
As noted above, Afghanistan lost access to its overseas assets. Most importantly this includes its central bank and the approximately 9.2 billion US dollars within. The country lost access to its central bank when the Afghan government fell and the Taliban took over. The international community does not recognise the Taliban as a legitimate power and believe allowing the Taliban access to Afghanistan’s state funds would constitute such recognition.
No access to the central bank means there is a banking crisis at every level of the country’s economy, as the legal constraints impact more than just the members of the Taliban. This restricts everyone with a commercial bank account; from individuals with savings, to nonprofits, and businesses, all of which have lost access to their assets that were inside commercial banks.
Already, 81% of firms have issues with both sending and receiving money domestically. 95% of firms run into problems processing overseas payments, and 85% of NGOs are unable to transfer assets internationally.
The withdrawal of foreign aid is one of the most damaging aspect for the most vulnerable people. The World Bank ended the disbursements from the Afghanistan Reconstructive Trust Fund which was primarily used “to pay [the] salaries of millions of teachers, heath workers, and other essential workers”.
The Afghanistan Reconstructive Trust Fund also “provided purchasing power to millions of Afghan families through cash-for-work programmes, and additional assistance programmes from the IMF, USAID, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB)”.
Ending these programmes resulted in an enormous number of people and families losing their income. In this way, the cycles of poverty, hunger, and lack of access to basic essentials have all been exacerbated.
The Crises for Women and Girls
Women and girls are bearing the brunt of the assorted crises in Afghanistan.
Women and girls face unimaginable obstacles in every aspect of life under the Taliban and their gender-segregated policies. The Taliban have closed the majority of girls’ secondary schools in a direct and concerted effort to deprive girls of education. Their devaluing of women in the public sphere, and an ever-rising poverty rate have made it even more difficult for girls to attend the few schools that remain open.
It is not simply education. Taliban policies have largely “barred women from most paid jobs forcing female-headed households into drastic measures”. these include sending older children into various forms of indentured servitude, allowing their sons to become child soldiers, and selling their daughters into child marriage or sex trafficking out of desperation.
Even in the incredibly limited areas in which women are allowed to work, they are often forced out of the workforce as they are “unable to comply with oppressive Taliban requirements, such as having a male family member escort them to work and even throughout the workday”.
The Taliban only continue to grow their list of human rights violations. Since April of 2021, they were responsible for numerous targeted killings of “human rights defenders, women activists, humanitarian and health workers, journalists, former government officials and security force members”, with both religious and ethnic minorities at particularly high risk.
They have conducted forced displacements and turned back any meaningful strides made in the rights of Afghan women in the last 20 years. They have also closed women’s shelters, and limited rights to assembly and freedom of expression.
The humanitarian results of these policies is of little importance to the Taliban. The Taliban has a very different set of moral and ethical values to the vast majority of the world. The Taliban does not care if the rest of the world is upset by their human rights violations; they do not care about the inhumane conditions their policies create for women and girls; and they do not care what anyone outside of themselves has to say about it.
The situation on the ground in Afghanistan today may seem insurmountable, but there are organisations trying their best to help. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontières has never stopped providing medical care in Afghanistan. Islamic Relief delivers food and other essentials to vulnerable communities in Afghanistan, and the International Rescue Committee helps Afghan refugees in a handful of countries around the world.
While the amount of aid is at a record low, there are still people that are trying to reach an increasingly cut-off community. If it is possible, I urge all readers to consider donating to these organisations. It is the least we can do after the West has so callously abandoned the Afghan people.
All views expressed are the writer’s own.