Afghan Ban on Women Aid Workers Could Push 6 Million Into Famine, Humanitarian Group Says

A major humanitarian group warned Monday that a continued Taliban ban on women aid workers in Afghanistan could push 6 million people into famine and leave 600,000 children without education. 

Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland issued the warning after talks with Taliban officials in Kabul.

He tweeted that a continued ban of female workers at nongovernmental organizations could also leave 13.5 million people without a safe water supply and 14.1 million people without protection services.

“We are not giving aid to the hundreds of thousands of people we serve here in Afghanistan,” Egeland said in a video he recorded Sunday in Kabul. “And it’s raining, it’s snowing, it’s miserable. And not to give them aid is so painful for us. But only if we are able to resume work with females according to all of the Afghan traditional values will we start work again, and I hope we will find a solution very soon.”

Last month, the hardline rulers abruptly forbade Afghan female staff from working for national and international nongovernmental organizations, saying they were not wearing the Islamic headscarf in line with official orders.

U.N. officials say the move has effectively suspended scores of humanitarian programs in a country where millions of people need urgent aid.

Markus Potzel, the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, held back-to-back meetings with senior Taliban ministers in the capital, Kabul, urging them to lift bans on women’s education and work for aid groups, citing the country’s dire humanitarian conditions.

Potzel held his latest meeting Sunday with the Taliban minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, tasked with interpreting and enforcing the Taliban’s version of Islam.

The “latest discriminatory bans against women by Taliban prevent life-saving help reaching Afghans and will hit [the] Afghanistan economy,” Potzel’s office quoted him as telling Muhammad Khalid Hanafi.

A statement from Hanafi’s office quoted him as telling the U.N. envoy, “We are trying to establish a Shariah-based framework to ensure that life-saving aid reaches people because saving a human life is more important than anything else.”

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