(Reuters) - The international community must find ways to inject cash directly into Afghanistan’s economy to avert its total collapse as a growing humanitarian crisis impacts half the population, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.
Guterres, speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters, also accused the Taliban of breaking promises they made after seizing power in August to uphold the rights of women and girls, including allowing girls to attend school.
"Broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan," Guterres said, asserting there "is no way" to heal the economy if the Taliban continue barring women from working.
His comments underscored the urgent need for steps to ease the economic and humanitarian crises that have grown since the Taliban took power as the 20-year U.S. military intervention ended.
The Islamists' takeover saw billions in central bank assets frozen and international financial institutions suspend access to funds, although humanitarian aid has continued.
Banks are running out of money, civil servants have not been paid and food prices have soared.
"The crisis is affecting at least 18 million people - half the country's population," said Guterres, adding that a massive U.N. humanitarian aid operation is underway in a "race against time" as winter approaches.
Guterres noted that the Afghan economy - kept afloat by foreign aid for two decades - was being buffeted by drought and COVID-19 before the Taliban seized power.
"I urge the world to take action and inject liquidity into the Afghan economy to avoid collapse," he said, explaining that any measures should avoid channeling cash through the Taliban.
They also should be taken independent of diplomatic decisions to recognize the Islamists' government, he said.
One way to inject liquidity into the economy, he said, is for U.N. agencies and humanitarian groups to make cash payments directly to people, he said, adding the World Bank could create a special trust fund from which money could be drawn.
But, he said, "The main responsibility for finding a way back from the abyss lies" with the Taliban.
The group not only promised to uphold the rights of women and girls, but those of minorities and former government employees, Guterres said.
"This is a make or break moment," he said, warning that without action, the world will "pay a heavy price" as increasing numbers of Afghans flee their country "in search of a better life."
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Alistair Bell)