By Claudia M. Zedda
Afghanistan is facing one of the gravest humanitarian catastrophes of our times. If you watched the news at least once in the past month, you must have heard about this crisis. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan has the third-largest displaced population in the world. This is the result of a war that started back in 2001. Twenty years ago, the US was responding to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist militant group led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, was found responsible. At the time, Bin Laden was under the protection of the Taliban, who had been ruling Afghanistan since 1966. When they refused to hand him over, US military forces invaded the country, removing the Taliban and vowing to support democracy.
After two decades, Taliban forces are trying to take control of Afghanistan just as the US troops are leaving it. Since the fall of Kabul on 15 August, the world has witnessed scenes of chaos and images of protests around Afghanistan. The Taliban have ceased the presidential palace and taken control of almost all of the country in just over a week. The pictures of people hanging off planes in a desperate attempt to leave the country have shocked the entire world. Many Afghans are afraid of what might happen next.
The impact of this conflict mainly affects women and children. According to the UN Refugee Agency, some 80 per cent of Afghan refugees forced to flee since the end of May are women and children. Nearly 400.000 were forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the year, joining 2.9 million Afghans already internally displaced in the country. Under the new Taliban order, girls are also excluded from returning to secondary school. Many women were also stopped from returning to work and were excluded from the government. Basic human rights gained in the past twenty years are being dangerously threatened.
In addition to this political and social crisis, other external factors contribute to Afghanistan’s economic crisis. The country is, in fact, critically dependent on foreign aid, which makes its economy extremely fragile. A nation is considered to be dependent on aid when 10% or more of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from foreign aid. According to the World Bank, about 40% of Afghanistan’s GDP was international aid. But where does this aid come from? The OECD identifies the top three donors for Afghanistan to be the United States in the first place, EU institutions in second place, and Germany in third place (2018-2019 average). When the Taliban started gaining control of Kabul, Western powers (including the US and Germany) suspended foreign aid to the country. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also halted payments since. Afghanistan’s central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank, also known as DAB) foreign reserves have also been frozen. Most of DAB’s reserves are held in the United States. On top of foreign aid, remittances make up around 4% of the country’s GDP (that is, family members who move and work abroad and send money back to their families). This makes Afghanistan one of the countries most dependent on remittances in the world.
On top of all this, Afghanistan is in the middle of a dreadful drought, which has left around half of the country’s children malnourished, the UN estimates. This is the second drought in two years. Since 1950, Afghanistan’s average annual temperature has raised by 1.8C, as stated by the climate security expert network. Many Afghans were struggling to feed their families due to severe drought well before the invasion of the Taliban. Afghans have found themselves caught in a vicious cycle of climate change and conflict for over 40 years. Water and land scarcity have increased conflict, poverty and political instability at a community level. These factors have also driven environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources. Millions are now likely to face starvation with the country being politically and economically isolated.
Why should UCC students care about Afghanistan? As previously mentioned above, a country that has been highly dependent on American and Western support for decades has suddenly found itself abandoned. Some may think that we, as students, have little or no power in such situations and that international organisations will take care of it. However, as we keep living our lives in our privileged social environment, Afghans are in serious need of help. We know about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and we cannot ignore it. As citizens of Ireland, Europe, and the entire world, if someone needs a hand, we must be there for them. Over the last two weeks, UCC has witnessed an amazing act of solidarity towards Afghan refugees. The Environmental Society and Fáilte Refugees Society organised a fundraiser gig on campus to support Afghanistan. The total amount raised was 265 euros, which went to the Immigrant Council of Ireland. This is an excellent example of what students can achieve with their means.
Outside the campus, other members of the community also decided to get involved. As some of you may know, Crawford & Co, organised a fundraiser table quiz in aid of Afghan refugees. The quiz was held on Monday 20th of September and all the money went to NASC Ireland, which is setting up a Community Sponsorship Programme to sponsor Afghan families to come to live in Ireland. The programme will provide temporary accommodation, help communities prepare for the arrival of Afghan refugees, and provide financial and social supports.
If you are a bit lost but you still want to help, here are a few things you can do:
- Write to your TD using Fáilte Refugees Society’s template letters (scan QR code to see). While the Irish government is providing refuge to 200 Afghan refugees already, these letters want to put pressure on our representatives. We aim to provide asylum to at least 1000 Afghan refugees. As the situation in their country gets worse, we want Ireland to support the resettlement of Afghans at risk. It is paramount that the Irish government knows that we care.
- Sign a petition. There are so many petitions online that encourage governments to act immediately in aid of Afghanistan. They have also been used to show support and solidarity with displaced people fleeing the country. A petition is crucial to gather a support base for politicians and governments to take action on it. The more people will sign them, the better.
- Share Afghan voices. Keep yourself updated on what’s happening in Afghanistan through social media. Continuing the conversation will encourage further support to promote the voices of Afghan activists and civilians. Share Afghan people’s posts, stories, videos and experiences with your family and friends. The power of social media is unlimited. Sharing the word is a great way of doing your part with little or no effort/expense.
- Support female journalists and media. The Taliban have targeted female reporters working in Afghanistan, who work to amplify the voices of Afghan women in hiding since the Taliban took over. Female reporters are being threatened just for working in the industry. Since the beginning of 2021, it has been reported by the Irish Mirror that five female journalists have been killed. Two organisations led by women you can follow on social media are Rukshana Media and Sahar Speaks.
- Donate. Charities and NGOs are working hard on the ground to support vulnerable civilians in danger by providing emergency essentials such as food, shelter and healthcare. Other organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency is helping those displaced by the crisis in Afghanistan. Inform yourself on what organisations to trust, and donate as little as a few euros if you can. Any help counts.
We cannot be bystanders in front of one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. We cannot ignore that an entire population is endangered, and people are being threatened to lose their identity, their land, their family, their rights, their hope, their life. Basic human rights such as education, employment, freedom, healthcare, peace and stability should never be at stake. Covid-19, conflict and drought has decimated the Afghan economy in the past two years, says the Centre for Global Development. Half of the country’s children are severely malnourished. The international community (and us as part of it) have a moral obligation to support a country that is on the brink of collapse. If you do not care about this, then who will?