By Tony Magliano
In Afghanistan, “hunger is rising and children are dying,” said David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. “We can’t feed people on promises – funding commitments must turn into hard cash, and the international community must come together to address this crisis, which is fast spinning out of control.”
Beasley’s quote appeared in a desperate column I wrote in November 2021. Shamefully, in the two months which has since transpired, the international community has not come together to address this crisis – a crisis which has now tragically spun out of control.
After recently viewing this heart-wrenching PBS/NewsHour update on Afghanistan’s worsening emergency (please watch: https://to.pbs.org/3nS3CWC), I felt the need to appeal again to readers on behalf of desperate Afghans – especially the starving children.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, recently told the U.N. Security Council that “Daily life has become a frozen hell for the people of Afghanistan.” He said, “As a matter of moral responsibility – and regional and global security and prosperity – we cannot abandon them. “They need peace. They need hope. They need help. And they need it now.”
The U.N. further reports that most Afghans are suffering from extreme levels of hunger, and “some families have been forced to sell their babies so they can buy food.”
To prevent the Taliban from gaining access to approximately$9.5 billion of Afghan assets residing in accounts like the U.S. Federal Reserve, a banking freeze has been put in place. However, this strategy heartlessly ignores the fact that Afghans are now starving to death. This de facto collective punishment, albeit unintentional, is immoral and illegal according to international humanitarian law.
Pleading for a reversal of this deadly strategy, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres is urging a freeing-up of frozen currency bank assets to help avert imminent mass starvation. A carefully designed and monitored plan to allow for the releasing of frozen funds to the Afghan Central Bank is workable.
For the sake of all Afghans, like it or not, there needs to be a committed comprehensive plan to bring the Taliban into the international community so that hospitals, schools, jobs, infrastructure, agriculture and trade can be firmly established in this bombed-out impoverished land.
But first on the humanitarian agenda is the urgent need to do our absolute best to ensure that no one starves, and that all other basic needs are met!
We can keep cash from the Taliban while still providing greatly increased emergency aid to starving Afghans by funneling funds from donor nations through the U.N. World Food Program and NGOs like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) who are now courageously serving on the ground in Afghanistan.
While the Biden Administration has set aside approximately $780 million for humanitarian assistance, that stingy amount is less than what the U.S. spent every three days on its 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Please contact your national representatives urging them to robustly increase lifesaving aid to the desperate Afghan people. (In the U.S. email and phone your two senators and representative/Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121). And everyone needs to pressure President Biden, urging him to push through far more immediate and long-term aid funneled through NGOs like CRS. Please email him at https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.
Also, kindly make a donation to Catholic Relief Services’ highly effective lifesaving efforts on the ground in Afghanistan.
Let us never forget our Lord Jesus’ revelation of his intimate union with the poor and hungry: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” May we imitate that same union with those who are so desperate.
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.