(Bloomberg) -- The United Nations chief has called on the World Bank to immediately release a pending $1.2 billion in reconstruction funds to Afghanistan to ease a growing humanitarian crisis as the global body seeks to inject liquidity to prevent an economic collapse in the country.

“We must pull the economy back from the brink,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a briefing to the Security Council late Wednesday, adding that the world needs to “jump-start Afghanistan’s economy through increased liquidity.” 

Guterres said the World Bank’s reconstruction trust fund for Afghanistan had transferred $280 million to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme last month. “We need the remaining $1.2 billion to be freed-up urgently, to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter.” 

During the 20-year U.S. occupation, international aid made up more than 40% of the Afghan economy. That foreign aid was abruptly halted after the Taliban took over the country last year. Washington also moved to block the militant group from getting access to some $9 billion of Afghan assets in American and European banks.

The UN, which has recently made a funding plea of a record $5 billion in aid, estimates more than half of the country’s nearly 40 million people face acute hunger, with a million children at risk of dying as a harsh winter sets in.

“Six months after the takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan is hanging by a thread,” Guterres said, adding the country could erase 30% of its GDP within the year. “For Afghans, daily life has become a frozen hell.”  

The Asian Development Bank on Tuesday said it has approved $405 million in grants to the UN agencies such as the WFP and UNICEF to support food security and deliver health and education services. The U.S. also announced an additional $308 million in humanitarian aid this month, making it the single largest donor in the world.


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