SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 5 March 2024, Tuesday |

Donors pledge $1.1 billion for ‘collapsing’ Afghanistan

Donors have given more than $1.1 billion to help Afghanistan, where poverty and hunger have risen dramatically since the Islamist Taliban came to power, and outside aid has dried up, creating the threat of a mass exodus.

Speaking midway through a U.N. conference requesting $606 million to satisfy Afghanistan’s most critical needs, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was too early to say how much had been committed in response to the call.

Afghans are facing “probably their most perilous hour” after decades of war and hardship, he added.

“The people of Afghanistan are seeing the simultaneous downfall of a whole country.”

He predicted that food would run out by the end of the month, and that 14 million people were on the verge of hunger, according to the World Food Programme.

From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law before being deposed in an operation led by the United States, which accused them of hiding terrorists behind the September 11 attacks.

They swept back to power in a rapid advance last month, as the last US-led NATO troops withdrew and the Western-backed government’s forces fell away.

Following the unexpected cessation of billions of dollars in aid due to Western hostility and distrust of the Taliban, numerous speakers in Geneva stated that donors had a “moral commitment” to continue assisting Afghans after a 20-year involvement.

China and Pakistan, both neighbors, had previously pledged assistance.

HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS

However, U.N. human rights director Michelle Bachelet, who was also in Geneva, echoed Western concerns. She accused the Taliban of breaching recent promises by ordering women to stay at home instead of going to work, preventing adolescent females from attending school, and persecuting erstwhile opponents.

Last week, Beijing pledged $31 million in food and medical supplies, and on Friday, it announced the shipment of a first batch of 3 million coronavirus vaccines.

Pakistan sent food and medicine, and it called for Afghan assets frozen abroad to be released. Iran said it had dispatched an air cargo of aid.

“Past mistakes must not be repeated. The Afghan people must not be abandoned,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose country has close relations with the Taliban and would most likely bear the brunt of an exodus of refugees.

Both China and Russia said the main burden of helping Afghanistan out of crisis should lie with Western countries.

“The U.S. and its allies have a greater obligation to extend economic, humanitarian and livelihood assistance,” said Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

The United States pledged $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.

Around $200 million of the new money is earmarked for the U.N. World Food Programme, which found that 93% of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not getting enough to eat.

“BRINK OF STARVATION”

WFP Executive Director David Beasley said 40% of Afghanistan’s wheat crop had been lost, the price of cooking oil had doubled, and most people anyway had no way of getting money.

While banks have started reopening, the queues for withdrawals are extremely long, and more importantly, no one who depended on the government for a salary – from civil servants to police – has been paid since July.

“Fourteen million people, one out of three, are marching to the brink of starvation. They don’t know where their next meal is,” Beasley 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 U.N. World Health Organization, also part of the appeal, wants to shore up hundreds of health facilities at risk of closure after donors backed out.

Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Organization for Migration, said the Afghan medical system was “on the verge of collapse”, and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that gains made towards eradicating polio and vaccinating against COVID-19 could unravel.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned that there could “very soon” be far greater displacement 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 added.

“A humanitarian and security crisis in Afghanistan will have direct implications across the globe. We should take collective action now.”

    Source:
  • Reuters