Sanctions on Afghanistan cause 'infuriating' suffering, says Red Cross

Charity accuses international community of turning its back as country faces man-made catastrophe

An Afghan woman buys food left by the US military from a peddler in Kabul on November 17. Reuters
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Economic sanctions are causing huge suffering in Afghanistan, a top Red Cross official said on Monday, describing the situations as "infuriating".

"I am livid," Dominik Stillhart, operations director at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at the end of a six-day visit to Afghanistan.

"Pictures viewed from afar of bone-thin children rightly elicit gasps of horror."

"When you're standing in the paediatric ward in Kandahar's largest hospital, looking into the empty eyes of hungry children and the anguished faces of desperate parents, the situation is absolutely infuriating.

"It's so infuriating because this suffering is man-made."

The UN has said that about 22 million Afghans, or more than half the country, will face an "acute" food shortage in winter because of a drought caused by global warming and an economic crisis aggravated by the Taliban takeover in August.

The financial crisis was aggravated after Washington froze about $10 billion of assets held in reserve for Kabul.

It deteriorated further after the World Bank and International Monetary Fund halted Afghanistan's access to funding.

Mr Stillhart said the economic sanctions "meant to punish those in power in Kabul are instead freezing millions of people across Afghanistan out of the basics they need to survive".

"The international community is turning its back as the country teeters on the precipice of man-made catastrophe."

He said "sanctions on banking services are sending the economy into free-fall and holding up bilateral aid".

Mr Stillhart said municipal workers, including teachers and health staff, had not been paid in months.

"They have no money to buy food," he said. "Their children go hungry, get dangerously thin and then die."

The Taliban authorities on Saturday said they had begun paying government employees, but it would take time.

But Mr Stillhart said the situation was urgent, with surging levels of malnutrition.

"This is a serious food crisis even before the worst of winter sets in," he said.

The Red Cross said desperately needed funding to humanitarian organisations has been jeopardised as some countries, suppliers and banks fear contravening UN Security Council resolutions.

"The ICRC is calling for a clear carve-out for impartial humanitarian organisations engaged in exclusively humanitarian activities," Mr Stillhart said.

"It is in everyone's interest to see humanitarian activities operating smoothly in Afghanistan."

The ICRC is increasing its assistance to Afghanistan.

Among other things, Mr Stillhart said the organisation had on Monday begun supporting 18 regional and provincial hospitals and about 5,100 staff who work there.

It would cover all costs and medical supplies for six months, ensuring hospitals can keep running and conducting about 500,000 medical consultations each month.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:20 PM