| 7 February 2023, Tuesday |

U.N. chief tells Security Council: Afghanistan ‘hanging by thread’

Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday, urging countries to allow all transactions need to carry out humanitarian operations in the Taliban-ruled country.

He also advocated for the suspension of any rules or conditions that limit “lifesaving” aid operations, citing the fact that millions of people in the country are suffering from extreme hunger, education and social services are on the verge of collapsing, and a lack of liquidity limits the capacity of the United Nations and aid organizations to reach people in need.

“We need to provide financial institutions and commercial partners legal comfort that they may deal with humanitarian operators without fear of violating sanctions,” Guterres said, noting that the 15-member council last month approved a humanitarian exemption to U.N. sanctions related to Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban took power in August, $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank funds have been frozen abroad, and foreign development assistance has dried up. Donors hope to use the funds to exert influence over the Taliban on matters such as human rights.

“There is compelling evidence of an emerging environment of intimidation and a deterioration in respect for human rights. This suggests that the consolidation of government authority may be leading toward control of the population by fear,” the U.N. special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the council.

In December, donors to a frozen World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund agreed to transfer $280 million to the World Food Program and U.N. children’s agency UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan. Guterres said the remaining $1.2 billion in the fund needed “to be freed up urgently to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the council that Washington had moved to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not impede humanitarian activity and it is examining various options to ease the liquidity crunch.”


U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths and International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer met virtually with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month on Afghanistan.

Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations, said “intense” discussions between the United Nations, the ICRC, the World Bank and key donor countries were centered on a “humanitarian exchange facility” that would be supported or managed by the World Bank and allow for cash to be injected into the Afghan economy.

He told reporters that money could be deposited in the facility and “under certain conditions that cash could be made available to traders in Afghanistan,” though he said it was a stopgap measure because “it needs to be the central bank that has to be capacitated to discharge these functions.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that “ultimately, a functioning Afghan economy will require an independent and technically competent central bank that meets international banking standards.”

Stillhart said agreement was needed between the U.N., World Bank and key donors to “kick-start this facility,” noting that the discussion was not related to the unfreezing of Afghan assets or changes to sanctions on the Taliban.

He said a separate idea was also being discussed that would involve using money from the World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund to pay non-security public sector employees.

The United Nations earlier this month appealed for $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan in 2022. On Wednesday, it said it needed a further $3.6 billion for health and education, basic infrastructure, promotion of livelihoods and social cohesion, specifically the needs of women and girls.

  • Reuters