UN warns 6 million Afghans at risk of famine as crises grow

Martin Griffiths, the United Nations humanitarian chief, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at U.N. headquarters. (AP)
Martin Griffiths, the United Nations humanitarian chief, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at U.N. headquarters. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 31 August 2022

UN warns 6 million Afghans at risk of famine as crises grow

UN warns 6 million Afghans at risk of famine as crises grow
  • More than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity, Griffiths said

UNITED NATIONS: Warning that Afghanistan faces deepening poverty with 6 million people at risk of famine, the UN humanitarian chief on Monday urged donors to restore funding for economic development and immediately provide $770 million to help Afghans get through the winter as the United States argued with Russia and China over who should pay.
Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council that Afghanistan faces multiple crises — humanitarian, economic, climate, hunger and financial.
Conflict, poverty, climate shocks and food insecurity “have long been a sad reality” in Afghanistan, but he said what makes the current situation “so critical” is the halt to large-scale development aid since the Taliban takeover a year ago.




A Taliban fighter stands guard as people receive food rations distributed by a Chinese humanitarian aid group, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, April 30, 2022. (AP)

More than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity, Griffiths said. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing.
Despite the challenges, he said UN agencies and their NGO partners have mounted “an unprecedented response” over the past year, reaching almost 23 million people.
But he said $614 million is urgently required to prepare for winter including repairing and upgrading shelters and providing warm clothes and blankets — and an additional $154 million is needed to preposition food and other supplies before the weather cuts access to certain areas.
Griffiths stressed, however, that “humanitarian aid will never be able to replace the provision of system-wide services to 40 million people across the country.”
The Taliban “have no budget to invest in their own future,” he said, and “it’s clear that some development support needs to be started.”
With more than 70 percent of Afghan’s living in rural areas, Griffiths warned that if agriculture and livestock production aren’t protected “millions of lives and livelihoods will be risked, and the country’s capacity to produce food imperiled.”
He said the country’s banking and liquidity crisis, and the extreme difficulty of international financial transactions must also be tackled.
“The consequences of inaction on both the humanitarian and development fronts will be catastrophic and difficult to reverse,” Griffiths warned.
Russia called the UN Security Council meeting on the eve of the first anniversary of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, sharply criticized the “ignominious 20-year campaign” by the United States and its NATO allies.
He claimed they did nothing to build up the Afghan economy and their presence only strengthened the country’s status “as a hotbed of terrorism” and narcotics production and distribution.
Nebenzia also accused the US and its allies of abandoning Afghans to face “ruin, poverty, terrorism, hunger and other challenges.”
“Instead of acknowledging their own mistakes and supporting the reconstruction of the destroyed country,” he said, they blocked Afghan financial resources and disconnected its central bank from SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions.
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun also accused the US and its allies of “evading responsibility and abandoning the Afghan people” by cutting off development aid, freezing Afghan assets and imposing “political isolation and blockade.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused the Taliban of imposing policies that “repress and starve the Afghan people instead of protecting them” and of increasing taxes on critically needed assistance.
She asked how the Taliban — which has not be recognized by a single country — expect to build a relationship with the rest of the world when it provided a safe haven for the leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in downtown Kabul. He was killed by a US drone strike on July 31.
Nonetheless, Thomas-Greenfield said, the United States is the world’s leading donor in Afghanistan, providing more than $775 million in humanitarian aid to Afghans in the country and the region in the last year.
As for Afghan frozen assets, President Joe Biden announced in February that the $7 billion in the US was being divided — $3.5 billion for a UN trust fund to provide aid to Afghans and $3.5 billion for families of American victims of the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.
“No country that is serious about containing terrorism in Afghanistan would advocate to give the Taliban instantaneous, unconditional access to billions in assets that belong to the Afghan people,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
To Russia’s claims that Afghanistan’s problems are the fault of the West and not the Taliban, Thomas-Greenfield asked, “What are you doing to help other than rehash the past and criticize others?”
She said Russia has contributed only $2 million to the UN humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan and China’s contributions “have been similarly underwhelming.”
“If you want to talk about how Afghanistan needs help, that’s fine. But we humbly suggest you put your money where your mouth is,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Russia’s Nebenzia took the floor again, calling the suggestion “stunning.”
“We are being asked to pay for the reconstruction of a country whose economy was essentially destroyed by 20 years of US and NATO occupation?” he asked. “You are the ones who need to pay for your mistakes. But first of all, you need to return to the Afghan people the money that has been stolen from them.”
Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador, had the last word.
“If the Russian Federation believes that there was an economy in Afghanistan to be destroyed, it’s been destroyed by the Taliban,” she said.

 


Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft
Updated 8 sec ago

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft
KYIV: Ukraine has detained eight people over the theft from a wall in the Kyiv suburbs of a mural painted by elusive British street artist Banksy, the authorities said.
The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday, they said.
“A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians,” Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a post on Telegram late Friday.
He attached the image of a gaping hole in the wall where the image once stood.
“Several people were detained on the spot,” he said. “The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he said.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov said “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
Last month, Banksy posted an image of the stencil of a gymnast performing a handstand on the wall of a wrecked building in Borodyanka, another suburb of the capital.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Together with towns such as Bucha and Irpin, Borodyanka and Gostomel were severely hit by Russian bombardment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
Updated 03 December 2022

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
  • Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal

Tallinn, Estonia: Estonia has agreed to buy six HIMARS rocket systems from the United States worth over $200 million, the state defense investment agency said on Saturday.
It is the largest arms purchase in the country’s history.
Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as has its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania.
The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal, as the pro-Western country fights back against Russian troops.
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), signed a contract on Friday with the United States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency to boost the country’s indirect fire capability, the ECDI said in a statement.
Estonia will also “procure ammunition, communications solutions, as well as training, logistics, and life-cycle solutions,” said armament category manager Ramil Lipp.
The ECDI did not provide details on how many rockets were ordered but said the purchase included those which can strike targets at a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles), and rockets of shorter range.
The first deliveries will arrive in 2024.
Lithuania last month said it would buy eight HIMARS rocket systems from the United States for $495 million.


UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
Updated 03 December 2022

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
  • New 2-tier system being considered to reduce country’s 150,000-person backlog
  • Syrian, Afghan applications have 98% success rate in UK: Home Office

LONDON: The UK is to establish a two-tier asylum system to speed up claims from people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, in plans set to be announced next week.

The country faces a significant backlog of 150,000 applications driven in part by mass migration of people from places such as Albania, which is considered a safe country. 

A huge number of people have taken to crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats to reach the UK, which has placed enormous burden on the state’s ability to house and support asylum-seekers.

The UK Home Office says by the end of the year it expects at least 50,000 people to have arrived in the country to claim asylum. 

Its figures also show that around 98 percent of applications from people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, 87 percent from people from Sudan and 82 percent of Iranians — who make up around a third of the backlogged asylum claims in total — end up being approved.

Under the proposals, those from the likes of Afghanistan and Syria will now be prioritized and their processes streamlined, removing things such as follow-up interviews after initial approval, and security and identity checks. 

It is thought that this will allow more deserving refugees to start their lives in the UK, as it will allow them to find work and their own accommodation.

Applications from Albanians, meanwhile, will also be dealt with quicker, with a deal to be struck between London and Tirana to expedite the process of deporting those whose applications are denied.

One source told The Times that the new scheme is being overseen directly by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has “completely taken control of the policy” from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had previously gone on record to say speeding up application processes based on nationality “wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

The source said: “He’s got teams of Home Office officials working directly to him, and Suella has been sidelined.”

A Home Office source told The Times that the department is looking at “focusing resources on very high grant rate cases.”


Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
Updated 03 December 2022

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
  • Catering course gave Ismet Shehu chance to serve late monarch during Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • ‘Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?’

LONDON: An Albanian who traveled to Britain hidden in a truck has told the Daily Mail that he served lunch to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismet Shehu, now 32, made the dangerous journey aged 17 after traveling to Italy and then France, where in Lille he entered the back of a truck heading for Britain.

Shehu entered the construction and hospitality industries after arriving in the UK, working low-wage jobs before signing up to a university course teaching high-end catering in London.

That course, as part of its training program, offered a small group of students — including Shehu — the opportunity to serve lunch to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Now back in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Shehu has used his experience in hospitality to open a range of successful restaurants.

He told the Mail: “Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?

“It was such an honor for me to do that and all just a couple of years after getting into the country hiding in the back of a lorry. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”


Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
Updated 03 December 2022

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
  • Slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs

BEIJING: Local Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.
The slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents frustrated by the rigid enforcement of anti-virus restrictions that are now entering their fourth year, even as the rest of the world has opened up.
The southern technological manufacturing center of Shenzhen said Saturday that commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the capital Beijing said Friday that negative test results are also no longer required for public transport from Dec. 5. However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries providing takeout services.
The requirement has led to complaints from some Beijing residents that even though the city has shut many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 tests.
The government reported 33,018 domestic infections found in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no symptoms.
As the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy, which has been in place since the pandemic started, led to snap lockdowns and mass-testing across the country.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers to the country, even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.
The recent demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted Nov. 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
The country saw several days of protests across various cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some demanded Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, an extraordinary show of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near total control.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
While the government has conceded some mistakes, blamed mainly on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can result in punishment. Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing conditions in team quarantine facilities, according to local media reports.
On Friday, World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said that the UN agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.”