GAZETTE: What happens after the Aug. 31 deadline?

VanROOYEN: After this period of transition, where the Taliban has essentially allowed certain internationals to depart the country under threat but peacefully, the next phase is going to be their consolidation phase. What is it going to look like? The Taliban, in the past, has taken on and provided assistance to populations, at least in certain sectors. But the degree to which they allow access to international agencies, particularly U.N. agencies like HCR or the World Food Programme, [is uncertain] and the results from not allowing any aid will be absolutely devastating, and very quickly. 

GAZETTE: What needs have these organizations been addressing?

VanROOYEN: Everything. First, economic aid. That is, the infusion of cash or cash resources or ways that people can be stabilized [financially] so they don’t have to sell their assets and migrate. So, the ability to stabilize populations in terms of their own economic status is a big one.

The next one is the health sector. Things like curative medical facilities, which will crumble, and public health interventions like vaccination programs, for example, or prevention of COVID or managing COVID infections or a variety of other things, will also be severely strained without international NGO and U.N. presence. Because that’s largely how the health system was propped up.

Food security and nutrition: Out of the almost 20 million people who are dependent on aid, a large number of them are food insecure. One out of every two children, so half of the children in the country, suffer from malnutrition. That is precarious. And if that [aid] gets either interrupted or not appropriately managed by major and heavy-lift resources, malnutrition will spiral.

One [challenge] is going to be: How do you house and manage displaced people when there have been [nearly] 400,000 displaced since May? The worry is that, with accelerated displacement, there could be another global refugee crisis. 

GAZETTE: Once the U.S. forces are out and the Taliban has complete control, is that the end of Western humanitarian aid in Afghanistan? What happens to those operations?

VanROOYEN: I assume they’re going to be dismantled. Because the Taliban has pledged that it’s not aiming to be the international pariah that it was when it previously held the country 20 years ago, the best-case scenario is that they will be threatened and dismantled. The worst-case scenario is that they will be killed and rooted out.

Afghanistan is so largely dependent on international aid — 70 percent of the economy is dependent on international aid. If that dries up, because of either economic sanctions or a reduction in support or lack of access by the Taliban, it’s a full collapse of the country. [That’s] arguably already happening. The thing that NGOs and U.N. agencies are contending with is being able to get access to vulnerable populations for the delivery of aid and the ability to bring in foreign aid to assist people.

Another challenge is going to be the protection of both civilians and those trying to deliver aid. That’s under threat because of the [Taliban’s stance toward] women and children, and particularly women. The Taliban has been incredibly aggressive in its human rights abuses against certain populations, particularly those who countered them in the past, and also, frankly, programs that support women.

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GAZETTE: What else concerns you about what may lie ahead for Afghanistan?

VanROOYEN: The other thing is this issue of human rights. The worry is not only the deprivation of traditional forms of humanitarian aid, such as food, food security, health care, access, housing, management of refugees, all of those things. But the thing that really worries everyone is the possibility of just catastrophic human rights abuses, focusing on women and children and civilians who have supported the aid effort in the past. I think those groups are at huge risk. The thing that may be telling after the 31st, and certainly in the next months, is what happens to those groups? Not only [if] will [aid] be allowed to come in, even under tight control, but also if those populations will be attacked or be protected. And that’s to be determined. That’s a major worry.