“The economic hardship is here. It is very serious and people will fight for their lives,” said Martin Schuepp, Red Cross operations director, in an interview late Sunday.
Sanctions against Taliban rulers, a halt to wire transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have already limited access to global institutions and the external money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy even before US and NATO forces withdrew.
The onset of winter will exacerbate the acute humanitarian needs already facing half the country, Schuepp stressed.
“Prices are rising for a whole host of reasons, but also the issue of sanctions has had a huge impact,” he said. “We are seeing more and more Afghans having to sell their belongings to make ends meet, where they have to buy materials for heating, while at the same time facing rising costs for food and other essentials.”
Sanctions are challenging to get aid and necessary supplies to the country in a timely manner, and it is critical that all sanctions have humanitarian exceptions so that organizations such as the ICRC can continue their work, he said.
The Red Cross already pays the salaries of 10,500 medical staff each month to ensure basic health care is maintained, he added.
“We are well aware that our primary job is not to pay the salaries of medical staff. As a humanitarian organization, we are not in the best position to do that. We have done this exceptionally to ensure that the service continues to exist.”
Schuepp, who was on his first visit to Afghanistan as director of operations since the Taliban takeover, said the service fed most of the country’s prison population. He could not immediately say how many prisoners there were in Afghanistan.
“We have stepped up our support for prisons and inmates and ensured that food is provided to prisons across the country,” he said. “Today about 80% of the prison population benefits from such food aid.”
He described the Red Cross’s role as an “emergency measure” made necessary following the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government as Washington began its final troop withdrawal in August 2021.
The Red Cross has been trying 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 government, leaving them internationally isolated. The religious group previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s and was overthrown by a US invasion in 2001.