As floods follow earthquakes and drought in Afghanistan, the USA should immediately return its billions

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Highly destructive floods devastated parts of Afghanistan in August. This was preceded by a prolonged drought, stated to be the worst in decades, and two earthquakes this year. As an overwhelming majority of people including children face serious hunger and many-sided deprivation, the USA and others should immediately release the Afghanistan central bank reserve funds of 9 billion dollars or so, perhaps placing the money in a Trust Fund dedicated to humanitarian aid.

In December 2021 there were reports of a very serious drought situation in Afghanistan which had been a prolonged one, resulting in only women and children being left in several villages as men went out in search of increasingly uncertain work. In January 2022 there was an earthquake. In April there were reports from leading humanitarian organizations of drought aggravation and as many as 12 million children and teenagers facing hunger, nearly 5 million being on the verge of starvation ( in a country with a total population of around 40 million).

In June there was another earthquake which caused more damage, particularly in Paktika region. Some villages were decimated. Nearly 1100 people are reported to have perished. Disaster experts noted that damage was disproportionately higher compared to the intensity of the quake, as in conditions of overall deprivation house construction and repairs must have been poor, or the wartime use of explosives may have weakened or partially damaged some of them already.

Then came very ferocious floods in August which are reported to have already claimed about 200 lives, with a higher number injured. Thousands of livestock have also perished. Video images have provided some indication of how devastating the floods have been, and damage may eventually be found to be higher than current estimates when more information is available.

In these conditions of multiple crises and disasters, it is nothing short of criminal conduct on the part of the USA and other western countries not to release the Afghanistan central bank reserves yet so that these can be used to provide urgent relief to badly suffering people.

These reserves are estimated to be around 9 to 10 billion dollars or so, according to various estimates. Nearly 7 billion dollars of these are with the USA.

In a controversial decision sometime back the USA government had diverted 3.5 billion dollars for providing assistance to the victims of 9/11 attack or their family members. This was widely criticized to be unfair to long suffering people of Afghanistan. Even several 9/11 victims have questioned the fairness of this decision. These victims should get all the assistance but this should be provided by the USA government by using its own funds and not by diversifying the funds meant for some of the poorest people in world.

There were a few reports recently that some talks have been initiated recently between the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and the USA authorities to release these funds, probably by transferring these to a Trust Fund which will ensure that these funds will be used only for humanitarian purposes and will not be used for any undesirable purposes.

Whatever the truth of these reports, what can be clearly seen is that there is no sign yet of these funds reaching the Afghan people. At the same time, due to a number of factors, humanitarian assistance reaching Afghanistan now is much less than before.

Of course it cannot be denied that there are several serious concerns regarding the Taliban authorities, particularly some sections of them, in the context of the serious injustice towards women and certain minorities, leading to high levels of insecurity for them as well loss of opportunities by them. However this cannot be a reason for denying the dues worth billions of dollars, although the chances of ensuring their humanitarian use can be increased by following some cautions. For example the access to these funds as well as increased humanitarian assistance can be linked to some form of schemes for improving the condition of women and minorities. Perhaps some important persons and agencies which are trusted by both sides can help in this.

However the access to funds cannot be delayed for too long in view of the very critical needs of the people of Afghanistan and the challenge of multiple crises and disasters which they face. The sooner the funds of Afghanistan central bank held abroad are returned to Afghanistan, the better it will be in the interests of justice.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.

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