- United Nations tries to galvanise world to help Afghanistan.
- Food shortages exacerbated after Taliban takeover.
- Exit of Western donors complicates aid situation.
- World Food Programme says 14 million “on brink of starvation”.
GENEVA: The United Nations urged the world on Monday to raise $606 million for Afghanistan, where poverty and hunger are spiralling since the Taliban took power, and foreign aid has dried up amid Western distrust of the group.
After decades of war and suffering, Afghans are facing “perhaps their most perilous hour”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his opening remarks to a conference in Geneva seeking aid for Afghanistan.
“The people of Afghanistan are facing the collapse of an entire country — all at once.”
He said food supplies could run out by the end of this month, and the World Food Programme said 14 million people were on the brink of starvation.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to their strict interpretation of the shariah law from 1996-2001 and were toppled in an invasion led by the United States, which accused them of sheltering militants behind the September 11 attacks.
They swept back to power last month in a lightning advance as the last US-led NATO troops pulled out and the forces of the Western-backed government melted away.
With billions of dollars of aid flows abruptly ending, several speakers in Geneva said donors had a “moral obligation” to keep helping Afghans after a 20-year engagement.
But underlining Western misgivings, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, also in Geneva, accused the Taliban of breaking promises by once more ordering women to stay at home rather than go to work, keeping teenage girls out of school, and persecuting former opponents.
Neighbours China and Pakistan have already offered help.
Beijing announced last week it would send $31 million worth of food and health supplies. Pakistan sent supplies such as cooking oil and medicine and called for the unfreezing of Afghan assets held abroad.
“Past mistakes must not be repeated. The Afghan people must not be abandoned,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose country would most likely bear the brunt of an exodus of refugees.
US and Norway pledge cash
The United States pledged nearly $64 million in new humanitarian assistance at the conference, while Norway pledged an extra $11.5 million.
Even before the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul last month, half the population – or 18 million people – depended on aid. That looks set to increase due to drought and shortages.
About a third of the $606 million being sought would be used by the UN World Food Programme, which found that 93% of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient food.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley told the conference that 40% of Afghanistan’s wheat crop had been lost, the cost of cooking oil had doubled, and most people anyway had no way of getting cash to buy food.
“Fourteen million people, one out of three, are marching to the brink of starvation. They don’t know where their next meal is,” he said.
“If we are not very careful, we could truly, truly enter into the abyss in catastrophic conditions, worse than what we see now.”
The World Health Organisation, another UN agency that is part of the appeal, is seeking to shore up hundreds of health facilities at risk of closure after donors backed out.
Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, warned that there could be far greater displacement soon than the estimated half a million who have already sought refuge elsewhere in Afghanistan this year.
“The physical distance between our nations and Afghanistan shouldn’t mislead us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
“A humanitarian and security crisis in Afghanistan will have direct implications across the globe. We should take collective action now.”
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