Red Cross: Afghans will fight for their lives this winter

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More Afghans will struggle to survive as living conditions deteriorate in the coming year, a senior International Committee of the Red Cross official said in an interview, as as the country prepares for its second winter under the Taliban regime. .

The religious group’s takeover in August 2021 sent the economy into a tailspin and fundamentally transformed Afghanistan, plunging millions into poverty and hunger as foreign aid came to a halt almost from day one on the next day.

“The economic crisis is here. This is very serious and people will be fighting for their lives,” said Martin Schuepp, director of operations at the Red Cross, in an interview Sunday evening.

Sanctions against the Taliban leadership, the halting of bank transfers and the freezing of billions in Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves have already restricted access to global institutions and the external money that supported the country’s dependent economy. aid to the country before the withdrawal of American and NATO forces.

The onset of winter will aggravate the acute humanitarian needs that half the country is already facing, Schuepp stressed.

“Prices are skyrocketing for a whole host of reasons, but the sanctions issue has also had massive consequences,” he said. “We are seeing more and more Afghans who have to sell their assets to make ends meet, where they have to buy heating equipment while facing rising costs for food and other essentials.”

Sanctions are a challenge to get needed aid and supplies to the country in a timely manner, and it is essential that all sanctions have humanitarian exemptions so that organizations like the ICRC can continue their work, he said. declared.

The Red Cross already pays the salaries of 10,500 medical staff each month to ensure basic health services are maintained, he added.

“We are very aware that it is not our main role to pay the salaries of medical staff. As a humanitarian organization, we are not best placed to do this. We have done this exceptionally to ensure services continue to be provided.

Schuepp, who was on his first visit to Afghanistan as operations director since the Taliban took over, said the agency fed most of the country’s prison population. He was not able to immediately say how many prisoners there were in Afghanistan.

“We have stepped up our support for prisons and prisoners, ensuring that food is delivered to prisons across the country,” he said. “Today, around 80% of the prison population receives such food support.”

He described the role of the Red Cross as a “stop-gap measure” that became necessary after the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government, once Washington began its final troop withdrawal in August 2021.

The Red Cross has tried to “ensure that basic services continue” in prisons under Taliban rule, he said.

No country in the world has recognized the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call their administration, leaving them internationally isolated. The religious group previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s and was overthrown by a US invasion in 2001.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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