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Afghanistan: UN calls for record aid increase to avert ‘catastrophe'

UN emergency aid coordinator Martin Griffiths announced the appeal for a record $5 billion to support Afghanistan. (Credit: UN Photo)

UN agencies called for billions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan as ongoing unrest, severe drought and the impact of decades of war push millions into poverty and food insecurity.

The United Nations made an urgent appeal to international donors on Tuesday for more than $5bn to fend off a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.

Five months on since the Taliban seized power in August, ongoing unrest coupled with consecutive severe droughts and the impact of decades of war have left more than half of the country’s 40 million population in need of humanitarian aid and plunged three-quarters into acute poverty, according to the UN.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms,” the UN’s emergency aid coordinator Martin Griffiths said in a statement. “My message is urgent: Don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan.”

Announcing its biggest ever appeal for a single country, the UN said $4.4bn was needed within Afghanistan while a further $623 million was required to support displaced Afghans, with nearly six million people currently sheltering in neighbouring countries.

One million Afghan children face acute hunger if donors do not rapidly scale up aid, Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, and another eight million face “a march towards starvation, and ultimately even possible famine”.

"Help us scale up and stave off widespread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death,” he appealed to donors.

More than 700,000 people were forced to flee fighting in Afghanistan last year, adding to around three million already displaced by four decades of war.

Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency, warned that huge numbers of refugees would leave Afghanistan if the international community failed to stabilize the situation in the country.

“If the country collapses and implodes… then we may see a much bigger exodus of people,” said Grandi. “That movement of people will be difficult to manage in the region and beyond, because it will not stop at the region.”

Griffiths stressed that the aid would support “direct delivery” of assistance to humanitarian agencies and would not fall into the hands of the Taliban - a major concern of international donors.

He said the security situation on the ground had improved in recent months, making a better environment for international aid agencies to operate. He also hailed the decision by the UN Security Council last month to exempt humanitarian aid from financial sanctions as a major step towards easing up aid deliveries and addressing the situation on the ground.

“The plan can work - the capacity of the agencies to make it happen is there,” he said. “The money needed is needed fast. It's needed to keep the pipelines of aid going. It's needed to make sure that the people of Afghanistan feel safe and secure enough to stay where they are and go back to their homes. ”

But humanitarian aid is only a “stopgap action” for Afghanistan, Griffiths warned, with more long-term efforts needed to prevent the “freefall” of the economy caused by international sanctions and the freezing of the country's international assets overseas.

UNHCR's Grandi also warned that vital services within the country such as health facilities, protection services and education had to be revived to prevent millions of Afghans leaving their homes.

The latest appeal is for triple the amount of assistance requested in 2021, when the UN raised hundreds of millions for Afghanistan soon after the Taliban takeover. Griffiths warned that the figure would keep rising if international donors failed to address the economic crisis immediately.

“These appeals can provide some kind of hope that that region will no longer have the blight that it’s been suffering for 40 years, 40 years of insecurity,” Griffiths said. “It’s got to stop.”