Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis cannot be effectively addressed unless the US and other governments ease restrictions on the country's banking sector to facilitate legitimate economic activity and humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
"Afghanistan's intensifying hunger and health crisis is urgent and at its root is a banking crisis," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Regardless of the Taliban's status or credibility with outside governments, international economic restrictions are still driving the country's catastrophe and hurting the Afghan people."
Despite actions by the US and others to license banking transactions with Afghan entities, Afghanistan's central bank remains unable to access its foreign currency reserves or process or receive most international transactions.
As a result, the country continues to suffer from a major liquidity crisis and lack of banknotes, according to HRW.
"Businesses, humanitarian groups, and private banks continue to report extensive restrictions on their operational capacities. At the same time, because outside donors have severely cut funding to support Afghan health, education, and other essential sectors, millions of Afghans have lost their incomes," the rights group said.
Acute malnutrition is entrenched across Afghanistan, even though food and basic supplies are available in markets throughout the country.
An Afghan humanitarian official told HRW in mid-July, "People have nothing to eat. You may not imagine it, but children are starving.... The situation is dire, especially if you go to the villages."
He said he knew of one family who had lost two children, ages 5 and 2, to starvation in the last two months: "This is unbelievable in 2022." He said that he knew of no shortages in food supplies and that the causes of the crisis were economic: "A functioning banking system is an immediate and crucial need to address the humanitarian crisis."
Almost 20 million people - half the population - are suffering either level-3 "crisis" or level-4 "emergency" levels of food insecurity under the assessment system of the World Food Programme (WFP).
Over one million children under 5 - especially at risk of dying when deprived of food - are suffering from prolonged acute malnutrition, meaning that even if they survive, they face significant health problems, including stunting.
Recently, the WFP reported that tens of thousands of people in one province, Ghor, had slipped into "catastrophic" level-5 acute malnutrition, a precursor to famine.
Overall, more than 90 per cent of Afghans have been suffering from some form of food insecurity since last August, skipping meals or whole days of eating and engaging in extreme coping mechanisms to pay for food, including sending children to work.
Afghanistan's economic collapse was caused in part by a collapse in most families' incomes following the Taliban takeover and foreign donors' decisions to suspend outside budgetary support for numerous government, humanitarian, and development sectors, including education and health. (ANI)