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UN Head Says Urgent Action Needed As Afghanistan 'Hanging By A Thread'

Taliban representatives Abdul Hakim Sharaie, Abdul Bari Omar, and Amir Khan Muttaqi before their meeting with Norwegian officials at the Soria Moria Hotel in Oslo on January 25.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told the Security Council that Afghanistan is "hanging by a thread" and urged the body to "suspend the rules and operations" that are preventing the international community from providing urgent assistance.

"At this moment of maximum need, these rules must be seriously reviewed," Guterres told a council briefing on the situation in Afghanistan on January 26, calling for member nations to issue licenses necessary for humanitarian relief.

Afghanistan's humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated since the Taliban returned to power in August. The UN has estimated 22.8 million people are suffering from acute food shortages and 8.7 million are near starvation.

Earlier this month, the UN called for $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid for the war-torn country this year. On January 26, the organization said an additional $3.6 billion was needed for health, education, infrastructure, and other social needs.

"We need to give financial institutions and commercial partners legal assurance that they can work with humanitarian operators without fear of breaching sanctions," Guterres said.

Resources must be freed up urgently "to help Afghanistan's people survive the winter," he said, adding, "Time is of the essence."

Afghan Central Bank reserves worth some $9.5 billion have been frozen since the overthrow of the internationally backed government in Kabul. No country has recognized the Taliban-led government, and international assistance has virtually come to a halt despite the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Guterres urged world powers to find "ways to free up frozen currency reserves and reengage Afghanistan's Central Bank" in order to "pull the economy back from the brink."

At the conclusion of a meeting in Oslo on January 26 between Western diplomats and Taliban representatives, the international community linked humanitarian aid to Taliban respect for human rights, particularly the rights of girls, women, and ethnic minorities.

The European Union's special envoy to Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, wrote on Twitter he had "underlined the need for primary and secondary schools to be accessible for boys and girls throughout the country when the school year starts in March."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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