Afghanistan's economic crisis deepens as airlift winds down

Afghanistans economic crisis deepens as airlift winds down

Kabul: Hundreds of Afghans protested outside a bank in Kabul on Saturday and others formed long lines at cash machines as a UN agency warned that a worsening drought could leave millions in need of humanitarian aid.

At the Kabul airport, thousands are still gathering in hope of fleeing the country, even after a suicide attack on Thursday killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members and amid warnings of more attacks.

The massive US-led airlift is winding down, with many Western nations having completed their own evacuation efforts ahead of Tuesday's deadline.

The economic crisis, which predates the Taliban takeover earlier this month, could give Western nations leverage as they urge Afghanistan's new rulers to form a moderate, inclusive government and allow people to leave after the planned withdrawal of US forces on Aug 31.

Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international aid, which covered around 75 per cent of the Western-backed government's budget. The Taliban have said they want good relations with the international community and have promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last governed the country, but many Afghans are deeply skeptical.

The protesters at New Kabul Bank included many civil servants demanding their salaries, which they said had not been paid for the past three to six months. They said even though banks reopened three days ago no one has been able to withdraw cash.

ATM machines are still operating, but withdrawals are limited to around $200 every 24 hours, contributing to the formation of long lines.

A UN agency meanwhile warned that a worsening drought threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million people. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said Afghans are also suffering from the coronavirus pandemic and displacement from the recent fighting.

Earlier this month, the UN World Food Programme estimated that some 14 million people roughly one out of every three Afghans urgently need food assistance.

The FAO said that crucial help is needed ahead of the winter wheat planting season, which begins in a month in many areas. So far, funding would cover assistance to only 110,000 families of farmers, while some 1.5 million need help, the agency said, adding that the current harvest is expected to be 20% below last year's.

President Joe Biden has said he will adhere to a self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing all US forces. The Taliban, who control nearly the entire country outside Kabul's airport, have rejected any extension.

Italy said its final evacuation flight had landed in Rome but that it would work with the United Nations and countries bordering Afghanistan to continue helping Afghans who had worked with its military contingent to leave the country.

Our imperative must be to not abandon the Afghan people, especially women and children, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Saturday. He said 4,890 Afghans were evacuated by Italy's air force on 87 flights, but did not say how many others were still eligible.

The Taliban have encouraged Afghans to stay in the country, pledging amnesty even to those who fought against them. They have said commercial flights will resume after the US withdrawal, but it's unclear if airlines will be willing to offer service.

The US and its allies have said they will continue providing humanitarian aid through the UN and other partners, but any broader engagement including development assistance is likely to hinge on whether the Taliban deliver on their promises of more

moderate rule.

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