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U.N. raises billion-dollar 'lifeline' for Afghans

Donors pledged more than US$1.2 billion in emergency aid for Afghanistan at a U.N.-sponsored fundraiser as the Tabilan consolidates power.

A villager in Afghanistan's northeast Badakhshan Province
A villager in Afghanistan's northeast Badakhshan Province (AN/Joel Heard)

GENEVA (AN) — Donors pledged more than US$1.2 billion in emergency humanitarian aid for Afghanistan at a United Nations-sponsored fundraiser on Monday as the Tabilan consolidates power and triggers concerns for human rights in the war-battered country.

U.N. leaders announced the aid pledges at a high-level conference had far exceeded the US$606 million "flash appeal" they had sought to protect 11 million Afghans who remain in their homeland and the additional millions of Afghans who have fled for safety throughout the region. It was unclear how much of the money represented new funding; some of the nations' pledges included previously announced contributions.

"The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline.  After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the donor conference.

"Now is the time for the international community to stand with them," he said. "Let us be clear: This conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe."

Guterres said hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes amid a severe drought that jeopardizes the next harvest. With the poverty rate and hunger rising fast, he said, a third of all Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from and basic services are close to collapsing.

"Many people could run out of food by the end of this month, just as winter approaches," said Guterres. "And of course, COVID-19 continues to stalk the country."

"I could just keep going"

On the morning of the donor conference, Filippo Grandi, head of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, landed in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, to assess what he called the country’s "acute" humanitarian needs, including those of 3.5 million displaced Afghans.

A week earlier, Martin Griffiths, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, traveled to Kabul to meet with the Taliban's leadership in the hopes that U.N. aid will not be further disrupted. He asked donors to disburse the US$1.2 billion in promised aid as fast as possible, which he said U.N. agencies and international NGOs would quickly convert into food, health care, and protection for Afghan children, women and men in need.

"This is a productive day, but it is far from the end of the journey," he said. "Afghanistan faces a long and hard road ahead, and this meeting shows that we can have solidarity with the Afghan people."

Last month, about 100 U.N. staff were relocated to Almaty, Kazakhstan for their safety as the U.S. military, NATO forces, and foreign nationals evacuated. The Taliban speedily ousted the remains of Afghanistan's government, including its troops, as U.S. President Joe Biden brought an end to America's 20-year war.

David Beasley, head of the U.N.'s World Food Program, said that as winter approaches 14 million people are on the "brink of starvation" due to the crisis in Afghanistan. The Rome-based agency has 467 employees on the ground in Afghanistan, he said, and the Taliban so far has allowed them to keep working.

“What we’re seeing is back-to-back drought, years of conflict, covid, economic deterioration, lack of cash, in fact, 40% of the wheat crop this year has been lost, and I could just keep going," Beasley said. "Cooking oil has doubled in price. All of these things make for a bad situation for all the people in Afghanistan."