Secretary-General’s press encounter on Afghanistan
NEW YORK - Ladies and gentlemen of the media, good morning. Allow me a few words on the nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan.
We are in a race against time to help the Afghan people.
Just two days ago, the United Nations launched our largest-ever humanitarian appeal for a single country.
The scale of that appeal reflects the scale of the despair.
Babies being sold to feed their siblings.
Freezing health facilities overflowing with malnourished children.
People burning their possessions to keep warm.
Livelihoods across the country have been lost.
More than half the population of Afghanistan now depends on life-saving assistance.
This situation, without a more concerted effort from the international community, will mean that virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty.
And all of this is happening, of course, amid a global pandemic.
Our humanitarian and refugee response plans require more than US$5 billion this year.
This assistance is essential to ramp up life-saving food and agriculture support, health services, treatment for malnutrition, emergency shelter, water and sanitation, protection and emergency education.
These are all critical investments to help Afghans help themselves in rebuilding their lives and building a future for their children.
We know that, properly funded, the aid operation in Afghanistan has the capacity to achieve amazing results.
Last year, the UN and its humanitarian partners reached 18 million people across the country, over 60 per cent more than the year before.
National and international aid workers helped keep food aid moving, clinics functioning, and schools open.
These workers now have access to areas and communities that have been off-limits for years.
But humanitarian operations desperately need more money and more flexibility.
Freezing temperatures and frozen assets are a lethal combination for the people of Afghanistan.
Rules and conditions that prevent money from being used to save lives and the economy must be suspended in this emergency situation.
International funding should be allowed to pay the salaries of public-sector workers, and to help Afghan institutions deliver healthcare, education and other vital services.
These civil servants include surgeons at major state hospitals, sanitation workers that keep disease at bay, and electrical engineers who strive to keep the lights on across the country.
This kind of support for essential state functions will give Afghans hope for the future and reason to stay in their country.
I welcome the Security Council's adoption of a humanitarian exception to the United Nations sanctions regime for Afghanistan.
This provides financial institutions and commercial actors with legal assurances to engage with humanitarian operators, without fear of breaching sanctions.
For our part, the United Nations is taking steps to inject cash into the economy through creative authorized arrangements. But it is a drop in the bucket.
Jump-starting the banking system is essential to avoid economic collapse and to enable humanitarian operations.
The function of Afghanistan’s Central Bank must be preserved and assisted, and a path identified for conditional release of Afghan foreign currency reserves.
We must do even more to rapidly inject liquidity into the economy and avoid a meltdown that would lead to poverty, hunger and destitution for millions.
For example, the World Bank administers a reconstruction trust fund for Afghanistan. Last month, the Bank transferred $280 million from that fund to UNICEF and World Food Programme operations in the country.
I hope the remaining resources – more than $1.2 billion -- will become available to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter.
The United Nations in Afghanistan stands ready to work with Member States and others to put in place accountable systems that will enable funds to reach the Afghan people most in need, and to ensure that these funds are not diverted.
And as I appeal to the international community to step up support for the people of Afghanistan, I make an equally urgent plea to the Taliban leadership to recognize and protect the fundamental human rights and in particular the rights of women and girls.
Across Afghanistan, women and girls are missing from offices and classrooms. A generation of girls is seeing its hopes and dreams shattered. Women scientists, lawyers and teachers are locked out – wasting skills and talents that will benefit the entire country and, indeed, the world.
No country can thrive while denying the rights of half of its population.
The women and girls of Afghanistan must have access to all education and employment opportunities, health care and other essential services.
The United Nations stands ready to cooperate and support the Afghan de facto authorities in making this possible with the greatest urgency.
Moving forward, it is also essential that every effort is made to build inclusive government institutions in which all Afghans feel represented – and that promote security and fight terrorism.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press,
Without creative, flexible and constructive engagement by the international community, Afghanistan’s economic situation will only worsen.
Despair and extremism will grow.
We need to act now to prevent economic and social collapse and find ways to prevent further suffering for millions of Afghans.