UN seeks huge aid increase to prevent ‘catastrophe’ in Afghanistan

Published : 11 Jan 2022 09:08 PM

The United Nations made what it described Tuesday as its biggest appeal ever for a single country, asking international donors to give more than US$5 billion (S$6.77 billion) to Afghanistan to fend off a humanitarian disaster.

Five months after the Taliban seized power, a severe drought and the cumulative toll of decades of war have left more than half the country's population needing humanitarian aid and plunged three-quarters of its 40 million people into acute poverty, the UN said.

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

Without international aid, 1 million Afghan children face acute hunger and another 8 million people face "a march to starvation, and ultimately even possible famine," Mr Griffiths told reporters.

The appeal included US$4.4 billion for humanitarian relief within Afghanistan, half of it for food in a country where more than 700,000 people were forced from their homes by fighting last year, adding to the nearly 3 million people already displaced by war.

The UN sought another US$623 million to cope with around 2.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries, mainly Iran and Pakistan.

Iran has said that about a half-million Afghans had fled there since the Taliban takeover.

Mr Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, did not confirm that figure, but underscored the danger of further huge flows of refugees if the international community failed to stabilise conditions in Afghanistan.

The United Nations raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Afghanistan in September after the Taliban takeover.

The new appeal will test donors' willingness to support a country that has carried out summary executions, severely curtailed the rights of women and suppressed independent media outlets.

Mr Griffiths stressed the aid would support "direct delivery" assistance to humanitarian agencies and pledged that the money would not leak to Taliban-controlled agencies.

The environment for international aid agencies is more favourable than in 2021, he said.

The end of the fighting has improved security on the ground, and a decision by the UN Security Council last month to exempt humanitarian aid from financial sanctions facilitated aid deliveries and security on the ground.

"The plan can work - the capacity of the agencies to make it happen is there," Mr Griffiths said. "The money needed is needed fast."

But humanitarian aid was only "a stop-gap measure," Mr Griffiths said, adding that far-reaching efforts are needed to revive the banking system, restore businesses and stabilise an economy that has collapsed under international sanctions and the freezing of Afghanistan's international reserves.

Tuesday's appeal was for three times the amount of assistance the UN requested in 2021, Mr Griffiths noted. But if the international donors do not respond and address Afghanistan's economic crisis now, he added, the UN would be forced to request substantially more aid in a year.

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