A Million Afghan Children Could Die in ‘Most Perilous Hour,’ U.N. Warns

A Million Afghan Children Could Die in ‘Most Perilous Hour,’ U.N. Warns

The plight of the Afghan people was brought into sharp focus on Monday when top United Nations officials warned that millions of people may run out of food before winter arrives, and one million children may die if their immediate needs are not met.

Speaking at a high-level United Nations conference in Geneva to address the crisis, Secretary General António Guterres said that since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the country’s poverty rate has skyrocketed, basic public services are on the verge of collapsing, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee fighting.

“After decades of war, suffering, and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” Mr. Guterres said, adding that one in every three Afghans does not know where their next meal will come from.

Mr. Guterres told reporters on Monday afternoon that the international community pledged more than $1 billion in aid during the meeting. America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, promised $64 million in new funding for food and medical aid.

With the prospect of humanitarian disaster looming over the country like the sword of Damocles for so long, it now poses an immediate threat to the children of the country.

“Nearly 10 million girls and boys rely on humanitarian assistance just to survive,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta H. Fore said at the conference. “This year, at least one million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition and may die if not treated.”

Even before the Taliban swept across the country and took control of the government, Afghanistan was facing a severe food crisis due to a drought that had engulfed the country.

According to the World Food Program, 40 percent of crops are lost. Wheat prices have risen by 25%, and the aid agency’s own food stock is expected to run out by the end of September.

The suffering caused by conflict and exacerbated by climate change has been exacerbated by the uncertainty that has accompanied the Taliban’s rise, with many international aid workers fleeing the country out of fear for their safety. Those who remain are unsure whether they will be able to continue working.

During the conference, the United Nations stated that $606 million in emergency funding was required to address the immediate crisis, while acknowledging that money alone would not be sufficient. The organization has pressed the Taliban for assurances that aid workers will be able to go about their work safely. By the end of the gathering, international pledges had exceeded the requested amount.

Even as the Taliban sought to make that pledge, the United Nations’ human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said in Geneva that Afghanistan had entered a “new and perilous phase” since the militant Islamist group took power.

“In contrast to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere over the past three weeks,” she told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, warning that the Taliban would need to do more than words to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of aid workers.

The conference on Monday was also intended to emphasize the gravity of the crisis and provide some reassurance to Western governments wary of providing assistance that could legitimize the authority of a Taliban government that includes leaders designated by the United Nations as international terrorists with ties to Al Qaeda.

Last week, Martin Griffiths, the United Nations’ director of humanitarian and emergency relief operations, visited Kabul and stated that Taliban authorities had promised to facilitate aid delivery.

“We assure you that we will remove previous and current impediments in the way of your assistance and all related projects working in Afghanistan under the supervision of the United Nations and other international organizations,” the Taliban said in verbal and later written commitments read out to the conference by Mr. Griffiths. The Taliban also promised to protect humanitarian workers’ lives and property, as well as their compounds. On Sunday, Taliban officials assured him that they would facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries by road.

Despite the risks, United Nations relief organizations continue to operate in the country and may be one of the last international lifelines for hundreds of thousands of people in need.

“In the last two weeks, we have provided safe drinking water to 170,000 drought-affected people and deployed mobile health teams in 14 provinces to continue providing basic health services to children and women,” Ms. Fore said. “During the last week of August, UNICEF provided lifesaving therapeutic treatment to 4,000 severely malnourished children under the age of five, and road missions have begun.”

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

The World Bank has halted new project funding, the International Monetary Fund has suspended payments to Afghanistan, and the Biden administration has frozen Afghanistan’s central bank’s assets held in the United States.

While China has made friendly overtures to the Taliban and offered $30 million in aid, this is only a fraction of what the country was set to receive prior to the Taliban takeover.

Donor countries committed $12 billion in aid to Afghanistan over four years at a meeting in November 2020.

The Taliban did not send a representative to the meeting in Geneva.

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

He also admitted that not even the Taliban expected to be in control of the country in such a short period of time.

“How the former administration abandoned the government surprised us,” he said. “We were not fully prepared for that, and we are still figuring out how to manage the crisis and help people in any way we can.”

Most banks in the country are still closed, and Mr. Mujahid stated that there are no immediate plans to reopen them due to the risk of people storming them.

He demanded that the United States unfreeze Afghanistan’s funds.

Hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by fighting have immediate needs that are becoming more pressing by the day.

Fighting and insecurity drove more than 500,000 Afghans from their homes this year, bringing the total number of people displaced within the country to 3.5 million, according to UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi.

The threat of economic collapse raised the prospect of a refugee outflow to neighboring countries.

Said Rahman, 33, was born in Kunduz and moved to Kabul, where he now lives in a park in a tent.

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

“It’s cold here, we don’t have food or shelter, and we can’t find work in this city,” he explained. “We all have children who require food and shelter, and it is difficult to live here.”

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A Million Afghan Children Could Die in ‘Most Perilous Hour,’ U.N. Warns