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In August 2021, the Taliban captured Kabul as coalition troops withdrew from Afghanistan. It announced the formation of a government in early September.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s least developed countries, according to UN measurements. It is highly dependent on aid, with grants financing around 75% of public spending in 2019, according to the World Bank’s expenditure report. Although aid has fallen from around 100% of GDP in 2009 to 43% in 2020, it remains at a high level.

Afghanistan is also a cash-reliant society. In 2020, 85% of the adult population did not have a bank account, according to the World Bank. In September 2021, the UN warned that Afghanistan may face an economic collapse and resulting humanitarian crisis, partly because of its liquidity crisis but also due to a decline in foreign trade.

The UN has warned that 97% of Afghans could be below the poverty line by mid-2022 unless international trade and aid resume.

This briefing describes the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, and the country’s economic and liquidity crisis. It also looks at how the UN and aid agencies are attempting to access people in Afghanistan, without Taliban interference; new aid pledges (including from the UK); and debates over how to best engage with the Taliban over aid now.

Aid commitments to Afghanistan

Short-term aid is likely to focus on relieving the humanitarian situation, including supporting internally displaced people and refugees.

January 2022 saw the UN launch its largest humanitarian appeal for a single country on record, of US$ 4.5 billion, to fund its work in Afghanistan during 2022. The resulting conference, held in March 2022 and which was co-hosted by the UK, raised US$ 2.4 billion.

The UK, US and the EU are among those to have announced new or amended aid pledges for Afghanistan since August 2021. The UK has pledged £286 million for 2021/22, and has pledged the same for 2022/23.

UK funding will also help address urgent humanitarian needs such as providing food and shelter, and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence.

Delivering aid via the UN

The UK and its partners have said that aid (other than that to address humanitarian needs) should be partly dependent on the actions of the Taliban. This includes ensuring the protection of girls, women, and ethnic minorities, such as the Hazaras.

The UN Security Council has renewed the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which will help coordinate and deliver aid.

The UN has also received written assurances from the Taliban that it will not interfere with the delivery of aid and will protect aid workers. However, some NGOs have raised concerns for the protection of their female staff.

Freeze on Afghan assets abroad

Since the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, Afghan assets oversees, such as those held by its central bank, have been frozen by the US.

Total assets held overseas are estimated to be in the region of US$ 9-10 billion, according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on the bank’s holdings in April 2021. Both China and Russia have called for these to be released.

In February 2022, the Biden Administration proposed that half of the US$ 7 billion held by the Afghan central bank in the US be released for Afghanistan. However, the US$ 7 billion is currently involved in litigation, with relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks seeking to claim the assets. It remains uncertain if any funds will be released.

The World Bank and IMF have paused their aid programmes in the country, among other organisations. In December 2021, the World Bank said that US$ 280 million of its funds would be released to Unicef and the World Food Programme to address urgent humanitarian needs. A further US$ 600 million was released in March 2022.

However, in March 2022 the Bank froze projects worth US$ 600 million in the country after the Taliban banned girls from attending secondary school.

Negotiating sanctions against the Taliban

Another challenge for delivering aid to Afghanistan is that the Taliban is subject to sanctions. NGOs and aid organisations have argued this has made the delivery of aid difficult, with many banks hesitant to allow money to be transferred into Afghanistan.

In December 2021, the UN Security Council voted to create a humanitarian exemption from sanctions against some Taliban members, in order to ease the delivery of aid to the country. The United Kingdom, United States and European Union have subsequently amended sanctions legislation to support the delivery of humanitarian aid. 

Update log

9 March 2022: Added details on UK’s hosting of a pledging conference for Afghanistan and the International Development Committee report on the UK’s aid work in the country

1 April 2022: Added financial pledges for 2022/23 at the UN conference, updated information on the humanitarian situation and noted suspension of some World Bank Funds. 


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