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One million Afghan children could die in “most perilous hour”, UN warns


The plight of the Afghan people became a great relief on Monday when senior United Nations officials warned that millions of people could run out of food before winter arrives and that a million children could die if their needs were met. immediate are not satisfied.

Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking at a high-level UN conference in Geneva organized to address the crisis, said that since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the country’s poverty rate is skyrocketing, basic public services are on the verge of collapse and, over the past year, hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless after being forced to flee the fighting.

“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they may be facing their most perilous hour,” Guterres said, adding that one in three Afghans do not know where they will get their next meal. .

Speaking to the media on Monday afternoon, Guterres said more than $ 1 billion in aid pledges had been made at the meeting by the international community. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pledged $ 64 million in new funding for food and medical aid.

With the prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe that has long hung over the nation like the sword of Damocles, it now poses an immediate threat to the nation’s children.

“Almost 10 million girls and boys depend on humanitarian aid just to survive,” Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, told the conference. “At least one million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year and could die without treatment. “

Even before the Taliban swept over the country and took control of the government, Afghanistan faced a severe food crisis as drought enveloped the country.

The World Food Program estimates that 40 percent of crops are lost. The price of wheat has risen 25 percent and the aid agency’s food supply is expected to run out by the end of September.

The suffering caused by conflict and exacerbated by climate change has been compounded by the uncertainty that accompanied the rise of the Taliban, as many international aid workers fled the country for safety. Those who remain do not know whether they will be able to continue their work.

During the conference, the UN said it needed $ 606 million in emergency funding to deal with the immediate crisis, while acknowledging that money alone will not be enough. The organization has pressured the Taliban to give assurances that aid workers can go about their business safely. By the end of the rally, international commitments had exceeded the amount requested.

But even as the Taliban sought to make that pledge, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, also speaking in Geneva, said Afghanistan was in a “new and perilous phase” since the militant Islamist group took power.

“Contrary to assurances that the Taliban will respect women’s rights, over the past three weeks women have instead been gradually excluded from the public sphere,” she told the Human Rights Council. in Geneva, warning that the Taliban should use more than words to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of aid workers.

Monday’s conference also aimed to convey the enormity of the crisis and reassure Western governments reluctant to provide assistance that could legitimize the authority of a Taliban government comprising leaders identified by the UN as international terrorists with ties to Al Qaeda.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s director of humanitarian and emergency relief operations, visited Kabul last week and said the Taliban authorities had promised to facilitate the delivery of aid.

“We assure you that we will remove past and current obstacles to your assistance and all related projects working under the supervision of the UN and other international organizations in Afghanistan,” the Taliban said in subsequent verbal and written pledges. which Mr. Griffiths read aloud. the conference. The Taliban also pledged to protect the lives and property of aid workers and to protect their complexes. On Sunday, the Taliban authorities assured that they would facilitate the deliveries of humanitarian aid by road, he added.

Despite the risks, United Nations humanitarian organizations are still working in the country and may be one of the last international lifelines for hundreds of thousands of people in need.

“Over the past two weeks, we have provided safe drinking water to 170,000 drought-affected people and deployed mobile health teams to 14 provinces to continue providing basic health services to children and women.” , said Ms. Fore. “In the last week of August, UNICEF provided 4,000 severely malnourished children under 5 with life-saving therapeutic treatment, and road missions began.

Since coming to power, the Taliban have been largely isolated – both politically and economically – from the rest of the world.

The World Bank has suspended funding for new projects, the International Monetary Fund has suspended payments to Afghanistan, and the Biden administration has frozen Afghan central bank assets held in the United States.

While China has made friendly overtures to the Taliban and offered some $ 30 million in aid, this is a fraction of the aid the country was expected to receive before the Taliban took control.

At a meeting in November 2020, donor countries pledged some $ 12 billion in aid to Afghanistan over four years.

The Taliban did not have a representative in Geneva for the meeting.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy minister of information and culture, said the government welcomes all humanitarian efforts of any nation, including the United States.

He also admitted that even the Taliban did not expect to take control of the country so quickly.

“It was a surprise to us to see how the old administration abandoned the government,” he said. “We weren’t fully prepared for this and are still trying to figure things out to deal with the crisis and try to help people in any way we can.”

Most of the country’s banks remain closed and Mujahid said there were no plans to reopen them anytime soon, citing the risk of people storming them.

He called on the United States to release Afghan funds.

For hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting, their needs are immediate and are growing every day.

More than half a million Afghans have been driven from their homes by fighting and insecurity this year, bringing the total number of internally displaced people to 3.5 million, said Filippo Grandi, the UN refugee chief.

The danger of economic collapse has raised the possibility of fueling an influx of refugees to neighboring countries.

Said, 33, lived in Kunduz before fleeing to Kabul, where he now lives in a tent inside a park.

He has been there for a month with his wife and three children.

“It is cold here, we have no food or shelter, and we cannot find work in this city,” he said. “We all have children and they need food and shelter, and it’s not easy to live here.



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