Lives saved by aid exemption to deal with Taliban – UN aid chief

FILE PHOTO: Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefs reporters on the famine and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – An exemption to allow the United Nations and aid groups to deal with sanctioned Taliban leaders to meet the humanitarian and basic human needs of the Afghan people has helped save lives, the U.N. aid chief told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

The 15-member council adopted the exemption a year ago, four months after the Taliban seized power. U.N. sanctions on a number of Taliban leaders, who now hold key positions in the administration, made it difficult for the United Nations and aid groups to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid in the country.

“It helps us and others to save lives,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council.

“I cannot overstate how essential this legal cover has been for humanitarian and commercial actors alike. It allows us, the humanitarians, to implement and scale and it authorizes our business and commercial partners … to process and pay funds to line ministries, headed by designated individuals,” he said.

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Griffiths listed at least seven Taliban administration ministries, including finance, economy, interior, water and electricity and transport and civil aviation, which are run by Taliban leaders sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.

While Griffiths said aid operations had been boosted by a quick and generous response from donors and that a U.N. cash facility had transferred some $1.8 billion into Afghanistan to support humanitarian operations, he still painted a dire picture.

He said 97% of Afghans live in poverty, two-thirds of the population need humanitarian aid to survive, 20 million people face acute hunger and 1.1 million teenage girls remain banned from school.

As the Security Council met on Tuesday, the Taliban-run Afghan higher education ministry said that female students would not be allowed access to the country’s universities until further notice.

Griffiths added that the Taliban administration has also “detained humanitarian staff, tried to influence or control humanitarian response, and constrained women’s freedom of movement and involvement in humanitarian action.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)