It is imperative that the international community strive to not only find acceptable ways of working with the Taliban, but also engage with local stakeholders, established Afghan-led NGOs and alternative leadership, writes Khorshied Nusratty.

By Khorshied Nusratty, October 20, 2021

As the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen, the country is facing a “dramatic humanitarian crisis” and collapse of the economy, according to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The country is facing severe crises on several fronts since the Taliban took control of the country including spiraling poverty and the collapse of basic humanitarian services. This has affected millions of vulnerable Afghans, especially women and girls, who now find themselves shut out from public life, work and access to education above a 6th grade level.

Even before the chaotic and desperate events of the past few weeks, Afghanistan was already experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Now under Taliban control, the crises loom even larger without reliable access to food, water, medicines, vaccines, health care services, electricity and cash programs.

Access to cash for everyday Afghans, humanitarian aid workers and businesses has come to a screaming halt. The banks were shut down by the Taliban almost immediately, and though some banks have opened on select days, cash withdrawals have been limited to US$200 for individuals and businesses.

In response to the Taliban takeover, donor countries and international organizations have halted their usual cash infusions into the country. They rightly fear that the funds will be mishandled and end up in the coffers of the Taliban instead of the intended recipients. This has further amped up the level of desperation among impoverished Afghans, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and companies trying to pay their staff and cover expenses.

Urgent and coordinated donor efforts are needed to stave off the collapse of social services that would have a catastrophic effect on Afghans, especially as the harsh Afghan winter approaches. This means working with established players on the ground such as Afghan-led NGOs and organizations that have the infrastructure, networks and cultural knowledge and experience working with the Afghan population, and not just engaging with the massive multilateral organizations such as the UN whose huge footprint quite easily evaporates much of the scarce funding available.

While the UN and some NGOs have reiterated that they will not be leaving Afghanistan despite the political turmoil and many unknowns, providing safe humanitarian corridors for delivery of aid, food and transport of staff remain of key concern.

In particular, the safe transport and protection of female aid workers are critical for many organizations. Without female staffers, humanitarian aid and health care cannot reach Afghan women and girls, who are forbidden from being treated by or meeting with men other than a family member.

Lack of resources and scant donor funds will also impact Afghanistan’s already fragile health care infrastructure with the closure of clinics and depletion of medical supplies. Access to proper medical care will most likely be reduced for Afghan women and girls, impacting maternal and neonatal care which remains critical in a country like Afghanistan.

Before 2001, Afghanistan had one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world. Twenty years later, the Afghanistan health care system made serious strides and maternal and infant deaths had been greatly reduced, although still considered some of the highest in the world.

Without access to immediate donor funding and some semblance of cooperation with Taliban leaders on international humanitarian assistance, Afghanistan will surely fall quickly into failed state status if it has not done so already.

It is imperative that the international community strive to not only find acceptable ways of working with the Taliban, but they must also engage with local stakeholders, established Afghan-led NGOs and alternative leadership to ensure that the Afghan population is supported on many fronts. Twenty years of blood spilled, and treasure spent have brought us full circle. We need to learn from past mistakes and lessons learned to avert a looming disaster.

Khorshied Nusratty is the president of Artists for Afghanistan Foundation and a former ABC News reporter and Fox News Kabul Bureau Chief (2002 through 2004). As an Afghan American women, she has advocated on behalf of Afghan women and girls most of her life (www.forafghanistan.org, www.voicesontherise.org). She was married to Omar Samad, the former Afghanistan Ambassador to Canada and France; they lived in Ottawa from 2004 – 2009. Khorshied is the Principal Communications Advisor at Gallup in Washington, DC.

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