The Soaring Crisis of Poverty and Hunger: Where Did $2.193 Billion Go?

By: Amin Kawa

The Taliban’s ascent to power has plunged Afghanistan into a profound humanitarian crisis, exacerbating poverty and widespread hunger. This dire situation has prompted numerous domestic and foreign investors to leave, causing tens of thousands of citizens to lose their jobs. The crisis has been further aggravated by persistent droughts and the repeal of laws. The United Nations has allocated over $2.193 billion to Kabul, recognizing it as the largest humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan’s history. Recently, the country director of the World Food Programme revealed that more than 50% of Afghans go to bed hungry each night. Severe malnutrition has surpassed the emergency threshold, as classified by the organization. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also reports that poverty has driven people to resort to desperate measures such as selling their children and turning to begging. Consequently, Afghan citizens question the whereabouts of the weekly $40 million entering the country and express concerns about the Taliban’s appropriation of these funds. The United Nations maintains that the Taliban does not have access to this money.

During an interview with Sky News in London on Sunday, May 14, Hsiao-Wei Lee, the director of WFP in Afghanistan, revealed that roughly half of Afghanistan’s population experiences hunger before bedtime. Ms. Lee emphasized that approximately 20 million individuals in Afghanistan lack sufficient food and endure hunger every day, with four million mothers and children facing the peril of malnutrition and potential death. Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed since August 2021, worsened by three years of drought and soaring food prices.

According to this UN official, the hunger crisis in Afghanistan has worsened due to the decrease in food production caused by drought, as well as the inability to afford food due to escalating poverty and unemployment. She further highlights that the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan has led to a significant decline in job opportunities, resulting in around 20 million Afghan citizens going to bed hungry.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has classified severe malnutrition in Afghanistan as exceeding the emergency threshold. According to the organization, this situation is expected to deteriorate further. WFP also states that currently, approximately half of children under five and one-fourth of pregnant and lactating women will need critical food assistance within the next 12 months. The organization stresses the urgent requirement of $1.46 billion in the next six months to sustain aid efforts in Afghanistan.

In its report titled “Afghanistan Socio-Economic Outlook 2023,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office highlights the significant economic and social catastrophe resulting from the abrupt political regime change. According to the UNDP, Afghanistan ranks among the world’s poorest countries, with people compelled to resort to begging or child trafficking for survival.

The report highlights the struggle of the majority of Afghans in coping with the unfavorable conditions following the Taliban’s takeover. It emphasizes that impoverished Afghans, away from the media headlines, face severe limitations in consumption, including food, heavily rely on loans, and resort to begging to survive amidst challenging circumstances.

The UNDP report highlights distressing situations where individuals have resorted to selling their homes, properties, and income-generating assets. It also reveals instances where families have been forced to sell family members, subject children to child labor, and compel underage daughters into marriage. The organization describes the economic outlook of Afghanistan as challenging. According to the UNDP, if restrictions on women’s employment in non-governmental organizations lead to a reduction in international aid, it will further intensify pressure on exchange rates and inflation, particularly affecting imported food items and making the situation even more difficult.

The UNDP office emphasizes that Afghanistan is in the midst of a financial crisis. According to the organization, the discontinuation of foreign assistance, which constituted 70% of the previous government’s budget, has severely restricted the country’s national and public resources.

Humanitarian Aid and Concerns about Taliban’s Embezzlement

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) emphasizes the importance of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. According to the organization, if humanitarian assistance had not continued from 2021 to the present, the economy would have deteriorated at a faster and deeper rate, exacerbating the humanitarian conditions. UN estimates indicate that in 2022, humanitarian aid effectively reached approximately 60% of all households and around 80% of households headed by women. The United Nations highlights the necessity of receiving humanitarian aid to prevent further deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. The organization warns that any reduction in international assistance will worsen Afghanistan’s economic prospects and perpetuate severe poverty for decades to come.

However, citizens of the country have raised concerns about the Taliban’s misappropriation of humanitarian aid. They allege that a significant portion of the aid fails to reach the deserving beneficiaries and is instead distributed among individuals associated with the Taliban and their militants. Abbas Tawakoli, a resident of Daikundi province, shared with the Hasht-e Subh Daily that humanitarian assistance is directed to areas where, in his opinion, the militants have intermediaries. Tawakoli further stated, “We have heard that aid has arrived, but we have not received any assistance because we lack connections or have not supported the Taliban. As a result, we are left without aid. Meanwhile, we hear reports of aid being distributed in areas where elders and influential individuals have ties to the Taliban.”

The Hasht-e Subh Daily has obtained a research report that reveals the Taliban’s embezzlement of humanitarian aid, resulting in 42,000 needy families in Ghazni province being denied access to assistance. In a UN Security Council meeting last year, Martin Griffiths, the UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, acknowledged the Taliban’s interference in the distribution of humanitarian aid. Just a month ago, the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighted the limitations imposed on assisting organizations due to Taliban interference in the distribution process.

Meanwhile, former government officials and political leaders have raised concerns about the continuous flow of cash to Kabul, considering it as assistance to support the Taliban’s governance. Mohamad Younus Qanooni, a member of the Council for National Resistance for the Salvation of Afghanistan, has accused some countries of exacerbating the tragedy in Afghanistan by sending cash packages to the Taliban. Recently, Amrullah Saleh, the former Vice President of Afghanistan, also criticized the cash transfers to Kabul. He pointed out that, based on the Doha agreement, $80 million was sent within two days under the pretext of humanitarian aid to strengthen the Taliban’s control in Kabul. Saleh emphasized that these funds are “ambiguous” and “conspiratorial,” lacking transparency in their distribution.

How many billion dollars have come to Afghanistan in the past 21 months?

According to reports, Afghanistan has received over $2.193 billion in the past nearly two years. United Nations officials confirm that this money has played a crucial role in stabilizing the exchange rate of the Afghan currency against the dollar and has not ended up in the hands of the Taliban. The Central Bank of Afghanistan, now under Taliban control, has confirmed the arrival of 31 packages worth $40 million each and over 30 packages worth $32 million each in Kabul over the past 21 months. Despite the ongoing delivery of cash shipments to Kabul, the United Nations states that it has only received 5% of the requested financial assistance for humanitarian aid in the new year. In a United Nations meeting held in Doha with representatives from various countries on Afghanistan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the situation as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. He stated that 97% of the Afghan population is poor, and around 28 million citizens require immediate assistance this year. The organization has repeatedly emphasized that an additional six million people are on the brink of famine in Afghanistan. Mr. Guterres expressed concern about the shortage of humanitarian aid and stated, “The United Nations has requested over $6 billion to help Afghanistan, but has received less than 7%, approximately $300 million, as aid.”

Meanwhile, sources from the northern provinces of Kabul, report the discontinuation of humanitarian aid. These sources indicate that aid organizations have collected distribution cards in certain areas of Panjshir, Parwan, and Kapisa provinces. They express concerns that cutting off aid in war-torn regions like Panjshir could lead to a humanitarian disaster for the population. Officials from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) have confirmed a reduction in aid to Afghanistan but assured that they will not halt humanitarian assistance to the people of the country.