The UN on Tuesday launched a $4.4 billion humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan, its biggest such fundraising effort, warning of widespread hunger as fears persist that aid flows could bolster Taliban hardliners.
UN humanitarian aid chief Martin Griffiths in Geneva told of the “largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance”.
Mr Griffiths said 23 million Afghans – more than half of the nation’s population – were in desperate need.
Afghans faced a crisis of “exceptional gravity”, including up to a million children aged under 5 suffering “severe and acute malnutrition” unless humanitarians can deliver aid during the harsh winter, he said.
Snow has blanketed most of central and northern Afghanistan in recent days, while flooding has affected parts of the south. Many Afghans cannot afford heating, with the country facing regular power cuts.
“We need to get food to the families where they live, we need to get seeds to the farmers where they plough, we need to get health services to the clinics in locations throughout the country,” Mr Griffiths said.
The US later on Tuesday announced $308 million in new aid for Afghanistan, which will help provide emergency health, shelter and nutrition services in the landlocked South Asian nation.
US spokeswoman Emily Horne said the aid "will directly flow through independent humanitarian organisations".
A UN Security Council resolution adopted last month enables aid flows into Afghanistan, which is on the verge of economic collapse, while keeping funds out of the hands of the Taliban hardliners who regained control of the country in mid-August.
These “groundbreaking exemptions for humanitarian operations” from the Security Council and similar steps by the US had removed the “chilling effect” that kept some aid agencies out of Afghanistan, Mr Griffiths said.
Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, and US and other foreign forces ended their two-decade presence in support of a western-backed government in Kabul, the country has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.
The US, backed by some other western governments, has blocked billions of dollars in Afghan Central Bank assets held overseas, and maintained sanctions on Taliban members despite calls from some of the country’s neighbours for help in averting a humanitarian crisis.
Foreign governments and international aid groups have since tried to decide how to engage the Taliban to avoid a meltdown of the Afghan economy and widespread hunger, without formally recognising the new government.