Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A new study by the United Nations Development Program has painted a bleak picture for the people of Afghanistan following the U.S. military withdrawal, and says 97% of the Afghan population faces an immediate risk of sliding into poverty.
The 22-page analysis, published Thursday by the UNDP, says widespread poverty in the Middle Eastern nation is virtually assured unless there's an "urgent" international response to the country's economic and political crises.
The UNDP said it studied four potential scenarios of escalating intensity and isolation for Afghanistan and concluded that the nation's economy could contract by as much as 13.2% -- and increase the poverty rate by as much as 25%.
"We are facing a full-on development collapse on top of humanitarian and economic crises," U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director for Asia and the Pacific Kanni Wignaraja said in a statement.
"Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. This analysis suggests that we are on course for rapid, catastrophic deterioration in the lives of Afghanistan's most vulnerable people."
The UNDP proposed a "package of interventions" to aid Afghanistan's most vulnerable and safeguard the rights of women and girls, who face a return to suppression under the Taliban government.
"In addition to a prolonged drought and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghanistan is contending with the upheaval caused by the current political transition: frozen foreign reserves, collapsing public finances, increasing pressure on the banking system, and rising poverty," the report states.
To avoid a total breakdown, U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the Security Council Thursday that the country urgently needs relief aid.
"The understandable purpose is to deny these funds to the de facto Taliban administration," she said, according to Voice of America.
"The inevitable effect, however, will be a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and indeed set Afghanistan back for generations."
The U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly two weeks ago after a constant presence for 20 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On Thursday, the first commercial flight left Kabul since the Taliban takeover and carried about 200 Americans and Afghan civilians to Qatar.