by Phil Hazlewood with Robin Millard in Geneva
LONDON: International donors have pledged $2.44 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, the United Nations said on Thursday, falling short of its goal of providing emergency relief.
The world body was seeking a record $4.4 billion in funding this year, putting millions at risk of starvation and a slowdown in the economy.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Afghanistan’s economy risks falling into a “death spiral” without immediate aid, with some Afghans already forced to sell their children and body parts to survive.
But at a virtual conference of donors co-organized with Britain, Germany and Qatar, only more than half of the ambitious goal had been achieved, it announced.
Forty-one nations contributed when urging Western nations specifically not to abandon the Afghan people, even as the war in Ukraine and crises elsewhere were noted.
“The rich powerful countries cannot ignore the consequences of their decisions on the most vulnerable,” Guterres said, referring to the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan last year.
Guterres and others painted a desperate picture of hunger, poverty and oppression under the Taliban, who seized power in August last year in the wake of the Western pull-out.
Guterres said that about 95 percent of Afghans do not have enough to eat and 9 million people are at risk of famine.
“Without immediate action, we are facing a crisis of starvation and malnutrition in Afghanistan. People are already selling their children and their body parts to feed their families,” he said.
“The first step in any meaningful humanitarian response must be to stop the death cycle of the Afghan economy.”
Britain has pledged $380 million in humanitarian aid for the coming fiscal year starting 1 April, with at least 50 percent of the aid targeted for Afghan women and girls.
Germany is providing an additional 200 million euros while the United States will put in about $204 million in new funding.
The convention came a week after the Taliban sparked international outrage by closing girls’ secondary schools, while promising a softer version of their harsh 1996-2001 regime.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her German counterpart Annalena Barbock both spoke at the event after co-signing a letter last week condemning the Taliban’s move.
‘hanging by a thread’
Truss said, “No country can be successful unless half of its population is stopped.”
Bairbock said that 20 years of progress since the September 11, 2001 attacks by US-led troops driving the Taliban “should not be washed away like melting snow in the sun”.
The UN’s target was triple the requested amount in 2021 and comes as Afghanistan is on the verge of economic collapse, with more than 24 million people said to need humanitarian aid to survive.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator Martin Griffiths, addressing the conference from Doha, described how he had been left “speechless” by the level of suffering in Afghanistan.
“Life was hanging by a thread for more than half the people in Afghanistan,” he said.
“We are only managing to address extreme food insecurity, preserve some essential services and prevent a complete recession of the country.
“The situation is incredibly delicate.”
British diplomat Griffith met with Taliban leaders in Kabul this week and said it was his “firm belief” that the door was still open for dialogue with the international community.
This includes solving the issue of girls’ education, he said.
But he said “sustained, unconditional, flexible funding” was needed to reach more people and bring money back into the economy and into the pockets of ordinary Afghans.
The international community has amassed nearly $9 billion in Afghan assets abroad since the Taliban takeover.
Griffiths said ways to get the country back into the international banking system will be critical in providing humanitarian aid.