UN secures $1.2 billion in pledges for desperate Afghans after Taliban takeover

Western donors announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million the UN was seeking

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The UN received more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges, double the amount it sought to help 11 million Afghans facing an escalating humanitarian crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region.

Western governments, big traditional donors and others announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million that the UN was seeking to cover costs through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from looming humanitarian disaster.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths announced at the close of the first high-level conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a month ago that more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian and development aid had been pledged.

Earlier on Monday, the UN had called for more than $600 million for Afghanistan, where hunger and poverty are deepening after the Taliban seized control and western donors cut aid funding over concerns about the Islamist hardliners.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a donor conference in Geneva that Afghans faced “perhaps their most perilous hour” after decades of war and insecurity, and the chaotic exit of US and allied forces last month as the Taliban swept to power.

“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” said Mr Guterres. “Now is the time for the international community to stand with them.”

Halfway through Monday's meeting, Mr Guterres said more than $1 billion had been pledged to Afghanistan, but that it was not clear how much of that was directed to the UN's emergency appeal.

As part of the appeal, the UAE pledged to carry out direct humanitarian projects in Afghanistan worth $50 million, the Foreign Ministry announced.

Mr Guterres did not refer to the Taliban by name, but said he had been in contact with Afghanistan’s new “de facto authorities” who he said had promised to “co-operate to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan”.

“The international community must find ways to make cash available to allow the Afghan economy to breathe — a total collapse would have devastating consequences to the people and risk to destabilise the neighbouring countries with a massive outflow,” he added.

The Taliban ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, blocking almost all rights for women. They were toppled in the US-led invasion of 2001 but regained power last month as the western-backed government in Kabul collapsed and the last western forces left.

Western donors cut cashflows to the country’s new rulers, who since regaining power have ordered women to stay home, barred teenage girls from classrooms, searched homes for perceived enemies andbeaten journalists in Kabul.

Still, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said international donors had a “moral obligation” to continue helping Afghans after Nato’s 20-year engagement.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, said the US was providing nearly $64m in new humanitarian support for Afghanistan.

“Let us commit today to meeting this urgent appeal for financial support, commit to standing by humanitarian workers as they do their all-important work and to stepping up humanitarian action in Afghanistan so we can save the lives of Afghans in need,” she said.

Afghanistan’s neighbours China and Pakistan had already offered help.

Beijing announced last week it would send $31m worth of food and health supplies to Afghanistan. Pakistan sent cooking oil, medicine and other supplies to authorities in Kabul and called for the unfreezing of Kabul’s assets.

“Past mistakes must not be repeated,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

“The Afghan people must not be abandoned.”

Even before the Taliban's seizure of Kabul last month, half the population - some 18 million people - relied on aid. That figure looks set to increase thanks to drought and shortages of cash and food, UN officials and aid groups say.

About a third of the $606m being sought would be used by the UN World Food Programme, which found that 93 per cent of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed recently were going hungry due to an increase in food prices.

“It's now a race against time, and the snow, to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most,” said the agency’s deputy regional director, Anthea Webb.

“We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out.”

UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi said that very soon, there could be a far greater displaced population than the estimated half a million who have already sought refuge elsewhere in Afghanistan this year.

The World Health Organisation is seeking to shore up hundreds of vulnerable health centres after donors backed out even as the country was battling Covid-19 and myriad health crises.

Updated: September 14, 2021, 6:11 AM