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UN sends in millions to pay Afghan health workers

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(Last Updated On: November 10, 2021)

The United Nations has paid nearly $8 million in salaries to some 23,500 health workers across Afghanistan over the past month, bypassing the health ministry in a test case to inject much-needed liquidity into a dire Afghan economy.

The U.N. development agency UNDP and the Global Fund health aid organization teamed up to resurrect a program that had been funded by the World Bank until it suspended assistance when the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) took control in August.

The United Nations has been struggling to get enough cash into Afghanistan to help deliver humanitarian aid to millions of people on the brink of famine and prevent the collapse of the economy and health and education services, Reuters reported.

“Someone had to step in. We were confronted not just with a health system that was collapsing, but also a financial system that was collapsing,” UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Kanni Wignaraja, told Reuters.

“Global Fund took the financial risk, we took the implementation risk to make these payments happen,” she said. “We’ve shown it’s possible, it can work … it goes a huge long way to saving at least the people’s economy in the country.”

The Global Fund provided $15 million, of which nearly $8 million was used for salaries, while much of the rest was spent on providing basic medical equipment, essential drugs and supplies, Reuters reported. UNDP worked out how to get the funds into the country and into the hands of health workers in 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Wignaraja said UNDP wired some of the money to the Afghanistan International Bank and then used a large money service provider, which UNDP declined to identify for security reasons, to distribute the rest.

The health workers paid so far – working in nearly 2,200 health facilities – had money deposited into bank accounts, while another 2,500 health workers will shortly be paid in cash because they are in remote areas.

“It’s given hope to these families. It’s reignited healthcare services,” said Wignaraja, adding that the program would now be run by the World Health Organization and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF for the next three months.

“Without this, you literally would have all the Afghan doctors, nurses, technicians, heading across borders,” she added.

During that time Wignaraja said the United Nations would talk to the World Bank to see if it was then able to take over the program again or find a hybrid solution if the bank is unable to get any approvals needed to do so.

Wignaraja said the payment of health workers salaries over the past month had helped spark the re-opening of some banks.

“The minute you start the local community economic activity and people are able to deposit money and take money these banks are able to open their local branches,” she said.

After showing it could work, the United Nations would continue using the formal banking system and money service providers to get cash into Afghanistan for the next few months, Wignaraja said, although she added that U.N. agencies were also considering a need to bring U.S. dollars into the country.

“This has been for us a pretty crazy test run of the system,” she said of the payments to health workers, adding that she hoped international donors were “watching it really closely.”

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Afghan PM calls for international community to recognize IEA govt

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(Last Updated On: January 19, 2022)

Afghanistan Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund has reiterated calls by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) for the new Afghan government to be recognized by the international community.

Addressing the one-day “Afghanistan Economic Conference” on Wednesday in Kabul, Akhund stated that Islamic countries should take the lead in recognizing the IEA.

He added that the IEA has been able to eradicate corruption and ensure security throughout the country.

“I ask all governments, especially Islamic countries, that they should start recognition.”

“I call on Muslim countries to take the lead and recognize us officially. Then I hope we will be able to develop quickly,” Akhund said.

He also called on the international community to release Afghanistan’s frozen assets and stressed that continuing to freeze the country’s foreign reserves is bringing widespread despair to the people of Afghanistan and “this in itself is a violation of human rights.”

“We do not want help for ourselves, our ministers and officials, but for the oppressed people,” he said.

Akhund noted that the foreign countries must provide basic assistance to Afghanistan; temporary and short-term aid cannot cure Afghanistan’s pain, he said.

Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who also attended the conference, stated: “We call on the United States to release the frozen money of Afghans, and we are ready to resolve all issues through negotiations.”

In the meantime, United Nations envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons said that the UN has always called for the lifting of sanctions.

“Our efforts and assistance are ongoing to secure the salaries of doctors and teachers, and as [second deputy prime minister Abdul Salam] Hanafi said, we are trying to speed up the process of comprehensive assistance,” Lyons said.

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Higher education will be open to men and women based on Sharia: Deputy PM

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(Last Updated On: January 19, 2022)

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan, said Tuesday that “based on Sharia principles”, education opportunities should be provided for both men and women in the country.

In a meeting with Afghan university lecturers, Baradar stated that higher education is critical in terms of meeting the needs to develop the country.

He noted the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is in favor of providing education opportunities for Afghan “men and women based in Sharia principals.”

Baradar added that universities will resume normal classes soon.

Public universities have been closed since the sudden collapse of the former government of Afghanistan on August 15, last year.

Last week, Acting Higher Education Minister Mawlavi Abdul Baqi Haqqani also stated educational institutions would reopen soon.

Haqqani said the Ministry of Higher Education was committed to standardizing all educational institutions in the country and that private universities without licenses would no longer have the right to enroll new students.

He said efforts were being made to make Afghanistan’s education system competitive with the rest of the world. He also said scholarships for Afghan students have been discussed with officials from the Ministries of Higher Education of Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and the European Union.

Haqqani reiterated that the country’s education system is based on the Islamic system and that all Sharia and Islamic laws must be observed at educational institutions.

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EU launches humanitarian projects in Afghanistan worth over $300 million

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(Last Updated On: January 19, 2022)

In a bid to address the major humanitarian crisis Afghanistan is facing, the European Union has launched projects worth €268.3 million ($304 million) that focusses on maintaining education, sustaining livelihoods, and protecting public health.

According to a statement issued by the UN, the funding is being channelled through United Nations agencies working in Afghanistan and benefits the Afghan population directly.

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, said: “I am pleased that we are addressing basic human needs and supporting livelihoods under the clear parameters set out by the Foreign Affairs Council.

“The projects focus on health, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, and education, in particular for women and girls. We are also supporting income generating activities, food security and local markets.

“We have reacted quickly to alleviate the suffering of the population and preserve a future for the Afghan people, especially women and youth,” said Urpilainen.

Seven EU projects, worth a total of €186 million, support health, education and livelihoods for Afghans and will be implemented through United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

A €50 million project implemented by UNICEF will provide around 194,000 public teachers nationwide with emergency cash support of around €90 per month for two months during the harsh winter time, the statement read.

Another €11 million project will ensure the provision of food at schools and to take home for boys and girls in primary school. For girls in secondary level, the EU will also support cash transfers for their households conditional on girls’ school attendance.

A €10 million project will improve testing, surveillance and hospital facilities to deal with COVID-19. This will be done in conjunction with the World Health Organization while a €25 million project will mitigate the health and nutrition effects of COVID-19 on women and children and will be done through UNICEF.

In addition to this, a €25 million project, implemented by UNICEF and the WHO, will allow for polio vaccine procurement and other measures and working with the WFP, the EU will increase food security, of €50 million, for around 450,000 persons.

Also, working with UNDP, a €15 million project will allow around 23,000 entrepreneurs, mainly women, to receive technical and/or financial support to develop and expand their businesses.

According to the statement, the EU has launched another five projects for a total of €79 million to address forced displacement and migration in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia.

The Afghan Children on the Move project will get €15 million; support to Afghan refugees and displaced people in Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia and Afghanistan will total €34 million; and a project for displaced Afghans in Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Afghanistan will total €15 million.

Support will also be given to vulnerable Afghans and host communities in Iran through a project, with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), totalling €14 million.

A €1 million project to enhance the capacities of Surkhandarya region in Uzbekistan to educate and train Afghan citizens will also be carried out and the EU will also increase its support to Afghan Human Rights Defenders at risk and Civil Society Organisations with two projects worth €3.3 million.

According to the statement, more projects in all these sectors are due to be launched in the coming months.

The new projects launched are a key milestone as part of the overall €1 billion EU support package announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in October last year.

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