Afghanistan’s free fall sparks accelerating humanitarian crisis

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The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the resulting cut in international aid has led to a worsening humanitarian crisis, according to the latest report by a Pentagon watchdog that has spent more than a decade tracking conditions in the war-torn nation.

More than 24 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, up from about 18.4 million last year, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, said in a report late Tuesday night.

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“Some 70 percent of households reported being unable to cover basic food and non-food needs, reflecting the impact of decline in household incomes, according to the study,” citing State Department figures. It went on to cite reports of people selling their kidneys as evidence of how dire the situation has become.

But in an even more ominous note, the report says conditions are likely to worsen.

The country is suffering its worst drought in three decades. That was underway before a recent surge in food prices, fueled by the war in Ukraine, itself a major grain exporter.

The United Nations has warned more than half of the country’s 40 million people are facing acute hunger and a million children could die of starvation.

Afghanistan’s economy has been in free fall partly because international aid, which accounted for 40 percent of gross domestic product, was abruptly cut back and the US moved to block the central bank’s access to some $9 billion in overseas reserves.

Yet aid that had continued after the Taliban takeover in August 2021 is now at risk.

In March the Taliban reversed itself and abandoned a commitment to reopen high schools to girls. That prompted the World Bank to halt $600 million in assistance.

The report also said Taliban authorities have continued their efforts to restrict the media by detaining journalists.

The report cited a survey conducted by Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, which found that by the end of 2021, 231 media outlets out of a total of 543 had closed and the number of individuals working in media had dropped to 4,360 from 10,790.

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