UN chief seeks cash to stop humanitarian ‘nightmare’ in Afghanistan

World Bank can unlock $1.2bn to help Afghans survive the winter, said Antonio Guterres

Two out of three – or more than 13 million – children in Afghanistan are in desperate need of life-saving aid, new UN figures show. AFP

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged donors on Thursday to release more than $5 billion to stop an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, rebutting fears that aid money could line the pockets of the Taliban.

The UN chief described a “nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan” and a “race against time” to bring aid into the country only five months after the Taliban swept back to power.

“Without a more concerted effort from the international community, virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty,” Mr Guterres told reporters in New York.

He painted to a harrowing portrait of life for ordinary Afghans, with “babies being sold to feed their siblings, freezing health facilities overflowing with malnourished children, people burning their possessions to keep warm".

In its biggest-ever single-country appeal, UN officials on Tuesday said $4.4bn was needed within Afghanistan, while a further $623 million was required to support the millions of Afghans sheltering beyond its borders.

The UN said 22 million people in Afghanistan — more than half the country’s population — and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in five neighbouring countries need vital relief this year.

Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, and US and other foreign forces ended their two-decade presence in support of the western-backed government, the country has been plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.

The US as well as some other western governments have blocked billions in Afghan central bank assets held overseas and kept up sanctions on Taliban members, despite calls from some of Afghanistan’s neighbours for support to avert a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Foreign governments and charities have since scrambled to work out how to engage the Taliban to avoid a meltdown of the Afghan economy and widespread hunger without formally recognising the new government.

“Rules and conditions that prevent money from being used to save lives and the economy must be suspended in this emergency situation,” said Mr Guterres.

“International funding should be allowed to pay the salaries of public sector workers and to help Afghan institutions deliver health care, education and other vital services.”

A UN Security Council resolution adopted last month enables aid flows into Afghanistan while keeping funds out of the hands of the Taliban.

“We must do even more to rapidly inject liquidity into the economy and avoid a meltdown that would lead to poverty, hunger and destitution for millions,” said Mr Guterres.

He urged the World Bank to unlock more than $1.2bn in assets from a reconstruction trust fund to “help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter”.

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 electricity blackouts.

Updated: January 13th 2022, 4:47 PM