The Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that Afghanistan's economy is on the brink of collapse.

Jan Egeland, who is in Kabul, said the country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

He warned that the formal banking system could collapse any day because of a lack of cash, and said aid organisations are in a race against the clock to save lives before the harsh winter.

Over 93% of households consumed insufficient food in the past week, according to a survey from the World Food Programme.

In a statement, Mr Egeland said: "If the economy collapses, even the most basic services will no longer function, and humanitarian needs will soar even higher. Dealing with the liquidity crisis is critical as aid organisations seek to scale up to meet urgent humanitarian needs.

"We are in a race against the clock to save lives before the harsh winter arrives and temperatures drop to as low as -20 Celsius. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people urgently need shelter, warm clothes and food in the coming weeks. Already, one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from."

He said that UN member states must urgently broker a multilateral agreement to stabilise Afghanistan, and fund essential public services.

"Donors must focus on providing fast and efficient solutions to delivering urgent aid for children, women and men that simply cannot wait any longer," he said. "The country is on a countdown to economic collapse – we must support the Afghan people no matter what."

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The country director in Afghanistan for the Norwegian Refugee Council said the landscape has changed drastically for the agency this year.

Astrid Sletten said they would normally procure tents, tarpaulins, blankets and other winter essentials locally, bringing much-needed spending to the economy.

She said they would also give cash grants to families in need, in order to restore a bit of dignity to them to spend the money as they see fit, but the cash-flow situation means that is now impossible.

"This year we are putting in huge procurements in neighbouring countries, specifically Pakistan and counting on support from the Taliban to actually get it across the border, so fingers crossed we actually get the items into the country in time to save lives," she said from Kabul.

RTÉ spoke to an Afghan journalist who recently settled in Ireland who would prefer not to be identified for reasons of security.

"All businesses have ceased their operation because the bank system is not functional and rampant poverty has hit the entire country and at the same time there’s pervasive fear not just about the future but also how the Taliban will treat people but also how the Taliban will run the country.

"Girls past the sixth grade have been deprived of education and at the same time, women can’t work."

He said it is particularly difficult in major cities where many people have grown up with a lot of liberties in the past 20 years in terms of freedom and jobs and it is a major shock for them now.

He is worried about the brutal scenes last weekend where the bodies of four executed men were hung in public in Herat.

"Taliban have committed all sorts of atrocities; killing people, beheading people, assassinating journalists, and when they see this, particularly kids, the only thing that will be imprinted on their minds is violence, trauma, and that’s it."

Asked if he has family remaining in Afghanistan he said: "I still have family and I’m extremely concerned about my family, my friends, my colleagues."

Probe in the Hague into the Taliban, IS-K

The International Criminal Court's new chief prosecutor said he wants to focus his investigation in Afghanistan on the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan, and to "deprioritise" alleged war crimes by US forces.

Karim Khan said he had asked judges to allow him to relaunch the probe - put on hold last year at the request of Kabul's then-government while it said it would investigate war crimes itself - following the Taliban takeover in August.

"Recent developments in Afghanistan and the change in the national authorities, represent a significant change of circumstances," said Mr Khan, who took over as prosecutor in June at the Hague-based court.

"After reviewing matters carefully, I have reached the conclusion that, at this time, there is no longer the prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations."

Mr Khan asked judges for "expedited" permission to resume the probe.

The Afghanistan probe's inclusion of alleged US crimes had infuriated Washington.

The administration of former US president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Mr Khan's predecessor Fatou Bensouda over the issue.

Mr Khan said that he would now narrow his focus in Afghanistan due to the "limited resources" of the ICC as it investigates various situations around the world.

"I have therefore decided to focus my office's investigations in Afghanistan on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province ("IS-K") and to deprioritise other aspects of this investigation," he said.

This was because of the "gravity, scale and continuing nature of alleged crimes by the Taliban and the Islamic State" and the need to "construct credible cases capable of being proved beyond reasonable doubt in the courtroom," Mr Khan said.

The ICC prosecutor specifically mentioned the deadly 26 August attack on Kabul airport claimed by IS-K in which more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed as well as 13 US service members.

"In relation to those aspects of the investigation that have not been prioritised, my office will remain alive to its evidence preservation responsibilities, to the extent they arise," he said.

The ICC was set up in 2002 to investigate the world's worst crimes in cases where member states were either unable or unwilling to investigate them themselves.

Former prosecutor Bensouda asked ICC judges to approve a formal investigation into Afghanistan in 2017. Appeals judges ruled in March 2020 that it could go ahead.

Additional reporting AFP