Donors back $280m fund transfer to help avert Afghan famine

Al Jazeera

11 Dec 2021

World Bank-administered fund will give $180m to the World Food Program for food aid and $100m to UNICEF for health services.

International donors have agreed to transfer $280m from a frozen trust fund to the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan, the World Bank said as it seeks to help a country facing famine and economic freefall.

The World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund will this year give $180m to WFP to scale up food security and nutrition operations and $100m to UNICEF to provide essential health services, the bank said in a statement on Friday.

The money would aim to support food security and health programmes in Afghanistan as it sinks into a severe economic and humanitarian crisis that accelerated in August, when the Taliban overran the country as the Western-backed government collapsed and the last US troops withdrew.

The United States and other donors cut off financial aid on which Afghanistan became dependent during 20 years of war, and more than $9bn of the country’s hard currency assets were frozen.

Using reconstruction trust fund money and channelling it through the WFP and UNICEF, both part of the UN family, appears to be a way to get funding into the country for basic needs in a manner that does not necessarily implicate US sanctions against the Taliban.

“This decision is the first step to repurpose funds in the ARTF portfolio to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan at this critical time,” the bank said, saying the agencies had presence on the ground to deliver services directly to Afghans in line “with their own policies and procedures”.

“These ARTF funds will enable UNICEF to provide 12.5 million people with basic and essential health services and vaccinate 1 million people, while WFP will be able to provide 2.7 million people with food assistance and nearly 840,000 mothers and children with nutrition assistance,” it added.

‘They need more than food aid’

Earlier on Friday, the Reuters news agency reported exclusively that the donors were expected to approve the $280m transfer.

On December 1, Reuters reported that the World Bank board had backed transferring the ARTF funds to the two agencies.

In its statement, the bank said it would “continue to work with ARTF donors to unlock additional ARTF funds to support the Afghan people”.

The money set to be released would aim to support food security and health programmes in Afghanistan as it sinks into a severe economic and humanitarian crisis [File: Javed Tanveer/AFP]

Laurel Miller, a former acting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, criticised the decision to tap the ARTF for strictly humanitarian aid, saying the money should come from other sources and the $1.5bn fund should be used for an extensive initiative to halt the collapse of state institutions whose workers have not been paid for months.

“We’re talking about a collapse of public services that serve the Afghan people,” said Miller, who oversees the Asia programme of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank.

“That’s not about helping the Taliban. That’s about helping Afghans who need a functioning state. They need more than food aid.”

Many people in the capital Kabul have resorted to selling household goods in order to feed themselves and buy coal to heat their homes in the winter.

Donors back $280m fund transfer to help avert Afghan famine