The needs of Afghanistan's children have never been greater. We cannot abandon them now, UNICEF says

The UN agency is concerned that some of its partners are considering cutting humanitarian aid to the country at a time when more resources are urgently needed

Photo/ UNICEF Afghanistan  -   A father and daughter in a displacement camp, two of the 18 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan

In recent weeks, as conflict and insecurity have escalated, it is children - those least responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan - who have paid the heaviest price. Not only have they been forced from their homes and cut off from their schools and friends, but they are also deprived of the basic health care that can save them from diseases such as polio and tetanus.

Now, with a security crisis, soaring food prices, severe drought, the spread of COVID-19 and another harsh winter around the corner, children are more at risk than ever, says the United Nations Children's Fund.

"If current trends continue, UNICEF predicts that one million children under the age of five in Afghanistan will suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. Meanwhile, more than four million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school. Some 300,000 children have been forced to leave their homes, some in their pyjamas while they slept, others as they sat quietly reading textbooks. Too many of them have witnessed scenes no child should ever have to see. Children and adolescents are struggling with anxieties and fears, and are in desperate need of mental health support," said George Laryea-Adjei, regional director of the UN agency.

Cutting funding

"We know that some partners are considering cutting aid to Afghanistan. This is very worrying and raises some important questions," he added, asking: "Will we have enough resources to keep health centres functioning and ensure that pregnant women can give birth without risking their lives? Will we have enough resources to keep schools open and ensure that girls and boys can spend their young years learning in safe and nurturing spaces? Will we have enough resources to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of severely malnourished children? "

"UNICEF has been in Afghanistan for 65 years and has a field presence throughout the country. We are engaging all partners so that we can scale up our response in all regions. We are already supporting mobile health and nutrition teams in IDP camps, setting up child-friendly spaces, nutrition centres and vaccination sites, positioning additional life-saving supplies, and supporting thousands of students in community-based education classes."

"But more resources are urgently needed. Young people and children have told us that they desperately need the most basic items and services - needs that, with support, the humanitarian community can easily respond to. UNICEF has recently launched an appeal for $192 million, and we urge donors to step up their support for vulnerable families and children who are struggling in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis."