Crisis in Afghanistan worsens as temperatures drop

Due to low international funding, there is currently no money to pay salaries or buy food, medicine or clean water. UN agencies also point out that the lives of a million children are at stake

© UNHCR/Tony Aseh  -   Displaced people receive assistance at a distribution centre in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is worsening and funding for emergency assistance is urgently needed to help 20 million people on the ground, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.

A month after the UN's $606 million appeal for UN solidarity on behalf of the Afghan people, the UN refugee agency said only 35 per cent of the funds needed to finance operations over the next two months had been received.

This follows the UN Secretary-General's call on Monday for the international community to inject liquidity into the ailing Afghan economy to prevent its collapse, for which "not only they, but the whole world, will pay a heavy price".

These comments by António Guterres came ahead of Tuesday's G20 meeting of major economic powers, whose leaders were due to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban ousted the government on 15 August.

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UNHCR/Tony Aseh - Displaced people queue at a distribution centre in Afghanistan.
An economy on the brink of collapse

From Kabul, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the agency was trying to set up a logistics centre on the outskirts of Afghanistan to distribute aid to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the country.

Baloch also explained that the Afghan economy was at a "critical juncture", and that collapse must be avoided at all costs, especially as temperatures plummet at night with the onset of winter.

"So, the resources are really needed to reach more and more Afghans, I mean, when you talk about half of the population depending on humanitarian aid; 20 million, this number is increasing day by day," he said. "We need these resources as soon as possible".

The UNHCR spokesman said the agency was planning three airlifts to increase supplies to Afghanistan in the coming period.

"The shipments will be flown to Termez in Uzbekistan and then trucked to Mazar-e-Sharif via the Hairatan border crossing. These airlifts will enable the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance items. The first flight is scheduled for mid-October," he said.

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UN/Eskinder Debebe - Secretary-General António Guterres (left) addresses the special G20 leaders' meeting on Afghanistan.
One in two people in need

By early 2021, 18 million people in Afghanistan were in need of humanitarian assistance, half of the country's population.

UN humanitarian officials insist that "the window to help is narrow", as only five per cent of households have enough to eat each day, and more than half of children under five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition over the next year.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, severe drought and the disruption of agricultural activities have increased the risk of food insecurity as winter approaches.

Urgent action needed

At the special G20 meeting on Afghanistan on Tuesday, Guterres stressed, according to his spokesman, that there were three key areas for action: ensuring vital assistance to the Afghan people, preventing the total collapse of the country's economy, and maintaining a "sustained commitment" to keep things moving in the right direction for the Afghan people.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said it has established four emergency clinics along Afghanistan's border areas to provide reproductive health and protection services to returnees, internally displaced persons, as well as host communities. The agency is also supporting a basic health clinic for IDPs in the Karokh district of Herat.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that there is no money to pay salaries or buy food, medicine or clean water. The agency also points out that the lives of a million children are at stake, as deaths from malnutrition are expected to be imminent. The agency stresses that these deaths can be avoided if additional funds are directed to Afghanistan now.

The international flash appeal is now 38 percent funded, the UN spokesman said.