According to the UNICEF, one million Afghan children could die from starvation in the next few months. United Nations. Nearly 23 million Afghans live in Afghanistan facing “crisis levels of hunger” and 8.7 million are on the “brink of starvation.” This mass hunger has rendered millions of Afghans on the “verge of death,” according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Afghanistan is facing severe poverty and below-freezing temperatures as well as a threat of mass starvation.
This is not an earthquake or a natural disaster. This is a human-made humanitarian tragedy. United States-made specifically.
The U.S.-allied Afghan government was heavily dependent upon foreign aid, especially under Ashraf Ghani’s rule. After the Taliban takeover in mid-2018 2021, both the Biden administration (and the UN Security Council) were forced to resign. institutedA stringent reduction in foreign aid was a result of devastating sanctions. The Biden administration froze 9.5 billion dollars’ worth of Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves, roughly equivalent to 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Recent Interviews with Sara Sirota and Ryan Grim, Journalists reported that the White House has “urged European partners and multilateral institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to similarly starve the nation of capital.” This has led to the total collapse of Afghanistan’s economy, creating “an almost globally unprecedented level of economic shock.” Unemployment has skyrocketed, and the country’s health care infrastructure has been decimated.
Experts agree noted, more Afghans are poised to die from U.S. sanctions over the next few months alone than have died at the hands of the Taliban and U.S. military forces over the last 20 years combined — by a significant margin. But, journalist Murtaza Hussain recently stated. wroteWe are imposing mass starvation on the U.S. establishment politicians, intellectuals, and others who decried the humanitarian crisis in Kabul.
The Biden administration — which routinely laments human rights violations perpetrated by China, Iran, Russia, and other adversaries — is ignoring desperate pleas from humanitarian organizations and UN human rights bodies, choosing instead to maintain policies virtually guaranteed to cause mass starvation and death of civilians, especially children. It is important to remember that this is not a new policy. The U.S. has imposed many harsh economic sanctions, resulting in mass civilian deaths. One of the worst humanitarian disasters that occurred was caused by sanctions previously, but it is largely forgotten in mainstream historical memories.
Following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990, the United States imposed sanctions against Iraq through the UN. These sanctions were in place for over a decade after Iraq invaded Kuwait. They had horrendous humanitarian consequences, which were very similar to the imminent mass starvation of Afghan civilians. The sanctions regime against Iraq — which began under President George H.W. Bush but was primarily administered by President Bill Clinton’s administration — froze Iraq’s foreign assets, virtually banned trade, and sharply limited imports.
These sanctions caused a crash in the Iraqi economy, blocked imports of humanitarian supplies, medicine, food, etc., and resulted in the deaths of many civilians. Martti Ahtisaari (respected international diplomat, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and former Finnish president) led the UN’s first delegation to Iraq shortly following the imposition of sanctions. The delegation reported that, “Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country.” The sanctions had produced “near apocalyptic results.”
Two years later, there is the World Food Program reported that the continuing sanctions had “virtually paralyzed the whole economy and generated persistent deprivation, chronic hunger, endemic undernutrition, massive unemployment, [and] widespread human suffering…. A grave humanitarian tragedy is unfolding.”
The consequences of the sanctions for Iraq’s health care system were dramatic. These sanctions were extensively covered in the Iraqi media by Jeremy Scahill. reported that, “Every pediatric hospital felt like a death row for infants.” Highly trained Iraqi doctors had the knowledge to save these infants, but the sanctions blocked them from acquiring basic medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, forcing doctors to reuse syringes multiples times and ultimately watch children die of perfectly treatable ailments. Iraqi hospitals “reeked of gasoline,” Scahill recalled, since desperate doctors were forced to substitute gasoline for sterilizer, disinfectant and bleach.
Denis Halliday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, resigned from his post in protest to the sanctions. Halliday had served as UN diplomat for more then 30 years. His resignation was announced by he told the press that, “four thousand to five thousand children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation.” He went on to label the U.S.-imposed sanctions “genocide.” His successor, German Diplomat Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest after fewer than two years, calling the sanctions a “true human tragedy that needs to be ended.”
A report by the UN Commission on Human Rights studying the impact of the sanctions on Iraq estimated the civilian death toll to be in the “range from Half a million to a Million and a Half, with the majority being children.” Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was confronted with this shocking statistic on “60 Minutes,” which led to this now-infamous exchange:
Lesley Stahl:We’ve heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And is it worth the price?
Madelaine Albright:This is a difficult choice. But the price — we think — the price is worth it.
During the era of sanctions Senator Joe Biden was a member and eventually the chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Biden strongly supportedThe sanctions and advocated even more aggressivepolicies towards Iraq. Biden was not known for his humanitarian impulses and dovish foreign policies. Samantha Power is not the same.
Power is the current head The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, who was brought into the Biden administration to be a champion of human rights, “lifting up the vulnerable” and “ushering in a new era of human progress and development,” according to Biden’s nomination statement. Power was the founding director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, served as the Obama administration’s UN ambassador, and has a long list of human rights accolades. The nomination of this “human rights crusader,” as Politico put itThe human rights community praised him widely. Yet Power’s record on U.S. imposed sanctions — first in scholarship and then practice — is abysmal.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America & the Age of GenocideThe U.S. response of 20th-century genocides is described in. Power argues that U.S. should have used its power to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. In the chapters surveying the 1990s, Power condemns the Clinton administration’s failure to intervene in Rwanda, intervene soon enough in the Balkans, and use U.S. military force to curb atrocities elsewhere.
Yet the U.S. sanctions regime that caused mass devastation to Iraqi civilians was conspicuously absent — it does not get a single mention in the book. For someone so dedicated to using U.S. power to protect civilians and stop atrocities, Power’s silence on the hundreds of thousands of children dead from U.S. sanctions is telling. Power is unrelenting — and rightfully so — in her condemnation of human rights abuses carried out by other countries. Even though the U.S.-imposed Sanctions have caused more deaths than any of the genocides or atrocities Power has described in her book and are still causing more, Power was silent when the U.S. was involved. Unfortunately, her silence continues to be on sanctions and their terrible human consequences.
As administrator of USAID Power is now actively involved in the starvation and killing of Afghan civilians. USAID increased humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan after receiving pleas from the UN and other humanitarian organizations. Experts have however confirmed that the USAID increased humanitarian aid. notedDespite their meager aid, they are steadily increasing their support. imposing devastating sanctions and freezing nearly all of Afghanistan’s foreign assets will do nearly nothing to stop the “unprecedented level of economic shock.” There is near consensus among numerous humanitarian coordinators that the only way to curb the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy and prevent furthering the major humanitarian disaster already underway is to lift the sanctions. Power, the renowned defender and champion of human rights, refused to call for the lifting sanctions and instead remained uncritical.
The devastating human toll of sanctions on Iraqi civilians in the ‘90s is a grim warning for what lies ahead if current U.S. policy continues. The Clinton administration’s sanctions caused mass death and suffering, and the Biden administration is dangerously close to following in their footsteps. The “human rights hawks” who lamented the humanitarian consequences of the fall of Kabul are now silent in the face of U.S.-imposed mass starvation, and the “human rights crusader” within the administration is complicit.
We must listen to the calls of humanitarian organizations, and press the Biden administration for immediate lifting of the sanctions before it’s too late. The U.S. has been causing suffering in Afghanistan for too long.