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Merkley, Connolly Lead Bicameral Push to Help Afghans at Risk of Starvation 

Washington, D.C. – With one million children at risk of starvation in Afghanistan, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11) led a group of 24 lawmakers to sound the alarm bell about the country’s dire hunger crisis and economic collapse and urge the Biden Administration to continue addressing these humanitarian issues. In a letter sent to Secretary Antony Blinken and Secretary Janet Yellen, the lawmakers welcome the Biden administration’s announcement today to release Afghanistan’s frozen assets to pay for food and other emergency needs, as well as the $308 million contribution announced last month toward the United Nation’s Afghanistan 2022 appeal. Still, the lawmakers continue to express their concern that more needs to be done.

“According to the United Nations, 22.8 million Afghans – or more than half of the country’s population – will face acute food insecurity this winter, and one million children risk dying of malnutrition,” wrote the lawmakers. “The UN Development Programme estimates that 97 percent of Afghans are in danger of falling below the poverty line. A combination of the Taliban’s economic mismanagement, overly restrictive sanctions regimes that could be better targeted, the freezing of at least $9 billion of the country’s overseas assets, and the abrupt suspension of multilateral and bilateral assistance that previously accounted for 75 percent of Afghanistan’s public expenditures, have given rise to a dire liquidity crisis that has constrained nearly all sectors of the Afghan economy, from the financing of food imports to salary payments for civil servants and the functioning of basic services. Experts warn that, without urgent action, more Afghan civilians will die in the coming months than died in the last 20 years of war.  

          

“Reinjecting liquidity into the Afghan economy and ensuring a smooth and effective humanitarian response are interlinked,”they continued. “Without a reliable mechanism for payments, NGOs have struggled to make financial transactions to pay their employees, let alone scale up their operations to meet the demands of a humanitarian crisis of such extreme proportions. Nor will it be technically feasible for NGOs and humanitarian partners to cover the entirety of Afghanistan’s food supply. In both the immediate and long term, Afghans need not just bags of flour but also a viable currency, access to the international financial system as well as international reserve assets, and trade financing to support food sales and essential government-run services.”

The lawmakers recommend implementing the following steps that are both commensurate with the scale and urgency of Afghanistan’s economic freefall, but also avoid emboldening an odious regime like the Taliban:

  • Further clarify U.S. sanctions authorities
  • Signal united states support for alternative sources of liquidity into Afghanistan
  • Support the world bank’s timely and full release of unspent funds from the afghan reconstruction trust fund
  • Make a sizeable contribution to the UN’s 2022 humanitarian appeal

In addition to Merkley and Connolly, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and U.S. Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53), Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-07), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Colin Allred (D-TX-32), Peter Welch (D-VT), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Scott H. Peters (D-Ca-52), Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Marc Veasey (D-TX-33), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA-08), André Carson (D-IN-07),  Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Grace Meng (D-NY-06), Danny K. Davis (New Party-IL-07), David Trone (D-MD-06), John B. Larson (D-CT-01), and Rick Larsen (D-WA-02).

Full text of the letter follows below and can be found here:

 

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