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UNITED NATIONS: Afghanistan is "hanging by a thread," with millions suffering extreme hunger, education and social services on the brink of collapse and a lack of liquidity limiting the capacity to reach people in need, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday.

"We need to suspend the rules and conditions that constrict not only Afghanistan's economy, but our lifesaving operations. At this moment of maximum need, these rules must be seriously reviewed," Guterres told the 15-member council.

We need the remaining $1.2 billion to be freed up urgently, to help Afghanistan's people survive the winter, Guterres said. "Time is of the essence."

He again called for countries to issue general licenses covering transactions necessary to all humanitarian activities.

"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.

Some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves remain blocked outside the country and international support given to the previous government has dried up since the Taliban seized power last August.

UN chief appeals for release of money to save Afghan lives

"We need to jump-start Afghanistan's economy through increased liquidity. We must pull the economy back from the brink. This means finding ways to free up frozen currency reserves and re-engage Afghanistan's Central Bank," Guterres said.

In December, donors to a frozen World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund agreed to transfer $280 million to the World Food Program (WFP) and UN children's agency UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan.

"We need the remaining $1.2 billion to be freed up urgently, to help Afghanistan's people survive the winter," Guterres said. "Time is of the essence."

The United Nations earlier this month appealed for $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan in 2022. On Wednesday, it said it needed a further $3.6 billion for health and education, basic infrastructure, promotion of livelihoods and social cohesion, specifically the needs of women and girls.

Taliban seeking greater role in distribution of foreign aid

The United Nations has pledged to work with countries to ensure that funds are not diverted or misused, but the UN special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, noted on Wednesday that there was still reluctance among donors to free up funds.

"It is clear that donors, who face their own domestic constituencies, are still not satisfied with the political progress in Afghanistan and are watching closely for encouraging signals," Lyons said.

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