UN seeks to raise $4.4 billion for Afghanistan

FILE PHOTO: An Afghan woman holds her child as she and others wait to receive package being distributed by a Turkish humanitarian aid group at a distribution centre in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 15, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara/File Photo

Nearly all Afghans don’t have enough to eat, according to the UN chief, and others have resorted to “selling their children and their body parts” to earn money for food.

Guterres kicked began a virtual pledging conference organised by the United Nations’ assistance coordination office and supported by the United Kingdom, Germany, and Qatar, with the goal of raising $4.4 billion for the UN’s largest-ever appeal for money for a single country. When much of the world’s attention is focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, and some wealthy nations have tried to squeeze the Taliban, it’s a bold move.

He urged the international community to “spare” Afghans who had their rights stripped — including many women and girls — following the overthrow of the internationally supported government last summer, prompting some wealthy countries to freeze nearly $9 billion in Afghan assets abroad to prevent the Taliban from accessing them.

Guterres stated, “Wealthy, strong countries cannot overlook the effects of their policies on the most vulnerable.” “Approximately 95% of people do not have enough to eat, and 9 million people are at risk of famine,” he continued, citing UNICEF estimates that over a million severely malnourished children “are on the point of death unless quick action is taken.”

“Without prompt intervention, Afghanistan would face a famine and malnutrition disaster,” he stated. “In order to feed their families, many are already selling their children and body parts.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that the United Kingdom will renew its 286 million pound ($380 million) aid commitment through 2021 this year. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced that her country has contributed 200 million euros ($220 million). Qatar has donated another $25 million for 2022, after contributing $50 million in previous months.

Afghanistan is falling under the weight of a crippling humanitarian catastrophe and a collapsing economy. According to the United Nations, 23 million people are food insecure.

Aside from the funding block, the situation for Afghans has deteriorated due to the worst drought in years, as well as increasing food prices as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, a vital European breadbasket.

“Ukraine is critical, but Afghanistan, you know, speaks to our souls for devotion and allegiance,” Martin Griffiths, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said ahead of the pledge campaign on Thursday. “To put it plainly, the humanitarian initiative for which we are pleading is to save lives.”

The funding request is three times what the agency requested for Afghanistan a year ago, a request that was exceeded after donors realised the scale of the needs that would have to be handled following the Taliban’s takeover.

“I have no doubt that we will not meet the $4.4 billion commitment objective tomorrow,” Griffiths added, “but we will work on it.”

Taliban hardliners have issued restrictive edicts almost daily since a leadership conference in the southern city of Kandahar in early March, harkening back to their brutal rule in the late 1990s, further alienating a wary international community and aggravating many Afghans.

Women are prohibited from flying alone, women are prohibited from entering parks on certain days, and male workers are required to wear a beard and the customary turban. Foreign TV shows have been pulled off the air, and international media broadcasts such as the BBC’s Persian and Pashto services have been outlawed.

The international community, as well as many Afghans, were astonished by a last-minute prohibition on girls returning to school after sixth grade. On March 23, the first day of the new Afghan school year, females returned to classrooms across the country only to be sent home.

Many donor countries are attempting to assist impoverished Afghans while mostly ignoring the Taliban, but the aid agency warned that political and economic engagement from abroad should return at some point in the future.

“It’s critical for the international community to engage with the Taliban on subjects other than humanitarian difficulties over time,” Griffiths added. “Humanitarian aid is not a substitute for other sorts of engagement.”

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