Photo: Maisam Shafiey/NRC

NGOs Turn to Digital Aid Money In A Poor Sanctioned Afghanistan      

KABUL , AFGHANISTAN –  The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) says that it has successfully tested an innovative digital cash project in Kandahar province. According to the NRC, the aim of the project is reshaping the landscape of humanitarian assistance.

The pilot project, carried out from October 1 to December 31, 2023, sought to address the challenges confronted by vulnerable rural communities, the NGO said.

As humanitarian actors try to help a growingly poor population, the international banking sanctions against the ruling Taliban pose major hurdles. Although the US Department of Treasury has issued exceptions since the group retook power in 2001 that allows transfer of some funds, challenges remain.

Aslam Khatti, NRC Afghanistan’s cash and markets specialist, highlighted the success of the pilot project in facilitating safe humanitarian aid distribution to displaced and vulnerable communities.

“Our pilot demonstrates how e-cash can facilitate safe distribution of humanitarian aid to displaced and vulnerable communities, empowering them to safely acquire essential items like food and household supplies.”       

According to the United Nations, Afghanistan experiences the world’s largest and worst humanitarian crisis, where more than 20 million people–more than half of the country’ population–need life-saving assistance.

After pouring billions of dollars since the Taliban’s takeover, poverty is only expanding while the global appetite to contribute to the humanitarian aid pool sharply declines.

Last week, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the organization’s global appeal has met only 3 percent of its target. In 2023, the UN had asked for more than $4 billion but was able to raise only around 30 percent of that amount.

Mr. Khatti called for additional donor funding to scale up e-cash assistance and establish an extensive user and agent network.

Implemented in collaboration with Hesab Pay, an Afghan electronic financial service provider, NRC provided monthly financial assistance of to 110 vulnerable households in the Maiwand district.

The $170 monthly payments, according to NRC, reached women, people with disabilities, and elderly-headed households. NRC’s said their post-pilot surveys revealed that 98 percent of participants found the e-cash system easy to use.      

The international sanctions that have cut the country’s financial system from global financial architecture have also prevented people in the diaspora from sending remittances to their families as the crisis expands.

Taliban’s restrictions on cash withdrawal from commercial banks and the banks’ lack of reach in rural areas make it more difficult for humanitarian aid disbursement in transparent ways.