Afghan economic hopes threatened by Taliban – UN

By Kelly Ng

Weak signs of recovery in Afghanistan’s economy are at risk of being undone by Taliban restrictions on women working for NGOs, the UN says.

Donations to the UN are under threat of falling sharply because of the ban on Afghan women working for it, the United Nations Development Programme said.

The number of families living in poverty had nearly doubled in two years, its report found.

The Taliban said politics should not be linked with humanitarian aid decisions.

Afghanistan was pushed into economic collapse when the Taliban took over in 2021, and foreign funds that were being given to the previous regime were frozen.

Already, 34 million people – 90% of the population – are living below the poverty line. Two in three Afghans don’t know when they will get their next meal.

The UNDP report noted signs of hope brought about by inflows of foreign aid through different UN agencies – coupled with improved security conditions, a reported reduction in corruption and better tax collection by the Taliban government.

But it stressed: “The economy cannot be reignited if women cannot work, while future economic growth is constrained by under-investment in girls’ and women’s education.”

Last year, the Taliban banned Afghan women from working for non-governmental organisations. Girls were also barred from secondary school and women from university.

When the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August 2021, billions of dollars in Afghan assets held abroad were frozen as the international community waited for the Taliban to honour promises on security, governance and human rights – including allowing all girls to be educated.

The United Nations and other non-governmental organisations have since played a crucial role in saving Afghans from going hungry.

But the UN said 94% of 127 national organisations it had surveyed had fully or partially ceased operations after the ban on women employees was imposed in December.

About 150 NGOs and aid agencies have suspended all or part of their work.

A senior Taliban finance ministry official told the BBC’s Yogita Limaye in Kabul that the rules imposed on women were “internal matters” for the country and that their government was working to improve the economic situation.

“All the humanitarian aid and donations on the ground, those should not be related to these issues only,” said Mairaj Mohammad Mairaj, the ministry’s director for general revenue.

“It is our duty as men, in the Islamic view, to take care of our women sitting in their homes.”

Mr Mairaj said there had been “a lot of corruption and misuse of power” in the previous government.

“We have stopped ill-practices like bureaucracy, corruption from our departments – this was the reason we have a very well managed structure of revenue collection.

“We need not only aid – we need trade,” he said. “We need the international community to come and work with us.”s

Currently, more than a million children, male and female, have been forced to leave school to provide for their families.

Said Ali Akbar and his elder brother Ali Sena are among them. They hammer and weld away for nine hours each day in Kabul to earn just 150 Afghanis – less than $2.

“I really like school. I miss it. This is very hard work, but I have got used to it now,” Said Ali, who is 11, told the BBC. He dropped out of sixth grade last year.

Their father lost his job when the economy collapsed and has now gone to Iran to find work. Their mother, Lila, begs on the streets.

“I feel awful that my young children are working. This is their time to study and be something. But life is hard for us. I am struggling to find work, and they have to provide for the family,” Lila told the BBC.

Some 84% of Afghanistan’s 5.1 million households are having to borrow to pay for food, the UNDP report says.

Earlier signs of recovery, such as a rise in exports, an expected increase in fiscal revenue, and a reduction in inflation – have been fuelled by international aid amounting to $3.7bn in 2022, according to the UNDP.

UNDP simulations now suggest that if aid were to drop by 30%, gross domestic product (GDP) could contract by 0.4% in 2023 and the inflation rate might spike to about 10% in 2024.

By that time, per capita incomes could decline to a projected $306, compared with $512 in 2020.

Afghan economic hopes threatened by Taliban – UN