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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

UN seeks huge aid increase to prevent ‘catastrophe’ in Afghanistan

A child suffering from severe malnutrition at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, in October.

By Nick Cumming-Bruce

The United Nations made what it described Tuesday as its biggest appeal ever for a single country, asking international donors to give more than $5 billion to Afghanistan to fend off a humanitarian disaster.

Five months after the Taliban seized power, a severe drought and the cumulative toll of decades of war have left more than half the country’s population needing humanitarian aid and plunged three-quarters of its 40 million people into acute poverty, the U.N. said.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s emergency aid coordinator, said in a statement. “My message is urgent: Don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan.”

Without international aid, 1 million Afghan children face acute hunger and another 8 million people face “a march to starvation, and ultimately even possible famine,” Griffiths told reporters.

The appeal included $4.4 billion for humanitarian relief within Afghanistan, half of it for food in a country where more than 700,000 people were forced from their homes by fighting last year, adding to the nearly 3 million people already displaced by war.

The U.N. sought another $623 million to cope with around 2.5 million refugees in neighboring countries, mainly Iran and Pakistan.

Iran has said that about a half-million Afghans had fled there since the Taliban takeover. Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, did not confirm that figure, but underscored the danger of further huge flows of refugees if the international community failed to stabilize conditions in Afghanistan.

The United Nations raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Afghanistan in September after the Taliban takeover. The new appeal will test donors’ willingness to support a country that has carried out summary executions, severely curtailed the rights of women and suppressed independent media outlets.

Griffiths stressed the aid would support “direct delivery” assistance to humanitarian agencies and pledged that the money would not leak to Taliban-controlled agencies.

The environment for international aid agencies is more favorable than in 2021, he said. The end of the fighting has improved security on the ground, and a decision by the U.N. Security Council last month to exempt humanitarian aid from financial sanctions facilitated aid deliveries and security on the ground.

“The plan can work — the capacity of the agencies to make it happen is there,” Griffiths said. “The money needed is needed fast.”

But humanitarian aid was only “a stopgap measure,” Griffiths said, adding that far-reaching efforts are needed to revive the banking system, restore businesses and stabilize an economy that has collapsed under international sanctions and the freezing of Afghanistan’s international reserves.

Tuesday’s appeal was for three times the amount of assistance the U.N. requested in 2021, Griffiths noted. But if the international donors do not respond and address Afghanistan’s economic crisis now, he added, the U.N. would be forced to request substantially more aid in a year.

“These appeals can provide some kind of hope that that region will no longer have the blight that it’s been suffering for 40 years, 40 years of insecurity,” Griffiths said. “It’s got to stop.”

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