International donors stepped up Thursday with more than $2.4 billion to keep Afghanistan from a humanitarian collapse, despite misgivings about the country’s Taliban government.
“Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a virtual pledging conference. “People are already selling their children and their body parts, in order to feed their families. Afghanistan’s economy has effectively collapsed.”
With Afghanistan suffering from the effects of decades of war, successive severe droughts and COVID-19, the United Nations has appealed for $4.4 billion to assist 20 million Afghans with food, shelter, medical care and other essentials — its largest-ever single appeal.
Among the major donors were Britain with $374 million; the United States, which announced nearly $204 million in new assistance; Germany with $218 million and Japan with $109 million. In all, the U.N. said 41 donors pledged new funding.
With more than 24 million Afghans — 60% of the population — needing humanitarian assistance, and 9 million people at risk of famine, it is one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world.
This week, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths briefly visited the capital, Kabul, and Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.
“I saw human suffering during those three days that left me quite speechless,” Griffiths said from Doha, Qatar, where he had just arrived. Qatar, along with the United Nations, Britain and Germany, are co-hosting the pledging conference.
Griffiths visited a children’s hospital and was deeply shaken by the sight of tiny babies too weak to even cry.
“In Kabul, I visited the Indira Gandhi hospital and saw severely malnourished children and newborns — newborns — clinging to life, sharing run-down, rickety incubators,” he said. “These babies were emaciated, listless and far too small. Mind you, this is downtown Kabul, not out in the rural, poorer areas of the country.”
Griffiths said humanitarians are just managing to stave off extreme food insecurity, preserve some basic services and are “barely preventing a complete meltdown of the country.”
Since the Taliban takeover in August, Afghanistan’s economy has gone into free fall.
Billions of dollars in international assistance that propped up the economy has dried up, and $9 billion in Afghan central bank reserves have been frozen abroad, leading to a severe financial crisis.
Western donors have reservations about their funding being appropriated or misused by the Taliban. The Taliban’s decision last week to renege on a pledge to resume education on March 23 for girls from secondary school up has confirmed a deep mistrust of them and the belief that they have not changed from their previous time in control of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they repressed human rights.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that decision was “inexcusable.”
“It is impossible not to feel a sense of profound outrage when we see girls and young women across Afghanistan wracked with tears as they learn they will have to leave their classrooms after all,” she said in a video message to the conference.
Thomas-Greenfield and many others called for the reversal of this decision, emphasizing that education is a fundamental human right and essential to the country’s economic recovery and stability.
While there is a lack of confidence in the Taliban, there was strong international support for the Afghan people and a recognition of the need to help stabilize the country and its economy.
Next month during the spring meetings of the international financial institutions, there will be a ministerial meeting to further discuss the Afghan financial crisis.