Photo by Joel Heard on Unsplash

Don’t Look Now

But Afghanistan is Starving to Death

Call me old fashioned but I think the world ought to do something to save 23 million people from the looming, largely man-made disaster of starvation and death in Afghanistan.
If you’re looking for information on the expanding megacrisis, you won’t get it in the major media. Today’s lead story on Fox News was “WH dodges question about Hunter Biden’s sale of Chinese assets — instead circles around it.” The N.Y. Times headline story was “New York City Announces Vaccine Mandate for Private Employers” and at the Washington Post, the top story was “Texas’s new voting maps discriminate against Latinos, Justice Dept. says in lawsuit.”
The winter has not yet arrived but when it does, brutal temperatures are expected to reach 13 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. Already millions of Afghanis are living in uninsulated shelters, without warm clothes, with insufficient food and fuel for heating and a lack of medical supplies.
The World Health Organization says it needs an additional $200 million a year to stave off what would be the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever known. I did a bit of quick math and found a quick solution. Consider just the four richest Americans, including Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, net worth of $177 billion; Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and founder, SpaceX, net worth, $151 billion; Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, net worth, $124 billion; and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Meta, formerly called Facebook, net worth $97 billion. That’s a grand total of $594 billion, according to Statista.com., and if you divide it by the $200 million a year needed in Afghanistan, these uber-super-rich oligarchs could keep Afghanistan afloat for 2,970 years.
I realize that it’s rather unlikely that four people whose wealth is unimaginable would pool their money to save a country from death. But maybe they could save Afghanistan for just 200 years, then they would still have billions left over.
So what does a pawn look like? She is 6-months-old, malnourished, her veins bulging, her skin disintegrating as she faces likely death because there are no available medications for her. And multiply that little face by millions of Afghan children and their mothers who are likely to die of hunger and the elements since the Taliban took control and the U.S. evacuated the country.
Since the U.S. withdrawal, the U.S. has created a mammoth hole in the Afghanistan budget as officials decided to withhold millions and millions of dollars in aid and to saboutage the tragic nation’s effort to raise money elsewhere. But even if my pipe dream was real, it’s likely that the billions of dollars in private aid would end up in the pockets of Taliban leaders or used toward buying missiles and other weapons, not food and shelter. That is how you define pawn and how absurd it is that the price of a Taliban victory is the death of millions of Afghanis under the new command.
A widespread famine in Afghanistan, would rival or even surpass the great Chinese famine between 1959 and 1961, in which starvation killed tens of millions, estimated at between 15 million and 55 million. The major contributing factors in the famine were the policies of the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962, leading to inefficient distribution of food within the nation’s planned economy, requiring the use of poor agricultural techniques, the “Four Pests Campaign” that reduced bird populations (which disrupted the ecosystem), over-reporting of grain production, and ordering millions of farmers to switch to iron and steel production.
The Taliban seized power in August during the U.S. military exodus, sparking a major financial collapse at a time of extreme drought in a country where about half of the nation’s 39 million people live below the poverty line. The situation led to a dire warning issued on Oct. 25 from the World Food Program, that “Afghanistan is becoming the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with needs surpassing those in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.” The WFP says it is feeding 5 million people in the country, but it will need an additional $220 million a month to cope with the deteriorating situation.
The U.S. announced on Oct. 28 that it will provide $144 million in new aid to flow through humanitarian organizations, not the Taliban. The United States, however, is still withholding $9 billion in Afghan assets, along with political recognition, according to the Washington Post.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, reported that the nation’s economy and social services are collapsing.
“Humanitarian aid is critical, but given the crisis, governments, the UN, and international financial institutions need to urgently adjust existing restrictions and sanctions affecting the country’s economy and banking sector,” Sifton said.
A Nov. 18 story in Foreign Affairs said that Afghanistan’s wheat crop has been ruined by drought which has driven up the price of all foods. Under different political conditions, the crisis could be managed. But in August, because the Taliban has been designated a terrorist organization, the U.S. froze Afghanistan’s assets which are mostly in the U.S. The U.S. sanctions made it almost impossible for other countries to work with the Taliban, a devastation in a nation where 75 percent of the economy stemmed from international aid.
“In its effort to pressure the Taliban, the United States is immiserating Afghanistan — again,” said the report.
To address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch recommends that:
* Governments, the UN, the World Bank, and the Taliban should work to reach an agreement to allow the Afghan Central Bank access to the international banking system.
* If an agreement involving the Central Bank is not possible, governments, the UN, and the World Bank should negotiate a short-term agreement with the Taliban to designate a private bank or other entity, independent of the Central Bank, to process large-scale humanitarian transactions to be monitored by officials with the World Bank, UN, or a designated third-party auditing entity.
*In the absence of any agreements, the UN should continue to use whatever means are at its disposal to continue shipments of money to Afghanistan for humanitarian purposes. The Taliban should cooperate in allowing these shipments, allowing deposits into independent private banks, and permitting the UN to utilize the funds independently and without interference.
“Donor generosity and humanitarian pledges can’t overcome the stark reality that UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and the Afghan diaspora cannot send assets to a banking system that isn’t functioning, and account holders in Afghanistan can’t withdraw cash that isn’t there,” Sifton said. “Widespread death and suffering from hunger are preventable if governments act urgently to address Afghanistan’s economic crisis.”

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