Donor nations on Thursday pledged $2.44 billion towards a $4.4bn UN appeal to answer Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis, which has worsened since the Taliban swept back to power, banning girls from schools and imposing other hardline measures.
Joyce Msuya, UN deputy emergency relief coordinator, said 41 nations had offered $2.44bn to help respond to an economic collapse that has pushed millions of Afghans into hunger and forced people to sell their children and organs to survive.
"We count on you to disburse your generous pledges as quickly as possible," said Ms Msuya at the end of the day-long pledging conference, which was co-hosted by the UN, Britain, Germany and Qatar.
"We also hope that many of you will exceed the commitments that you have made today, and that you will continue to support the humanitarian response in Afghanistan."
Earlier, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked donors for a record-breaking $4.4bn appeal for Afghanistan this year.
He urged governments to look beyond the Taliban’s last-minute decision to stop teenage girls going back to school on March 23.
“While we wait for girls to return to school, we cannot use their education as a bargaining tool," he said.
"There is no rationale for withholding humanitarian aid based on this decision by the de facto authorities.”
Eight months after Taliban fighters toppled the internationally backed government, Afghanistan is buckling under a widening humanitarian crisis and an economy in free fall. About 23 million people face acute food insecurity, the UN says.
The world body’s biggest funding appeal for a single country was widely viewed as ambitious. Potential donors were understood to be deterred by the Taliban’s worsening human rights record and distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A Yemen fundraiser this month raised less than one third of its target.
The Afghanistan appeal is three times what the UN sought a year earlier, a request that was exceeded once donors saw the needs that would have to be met after the Taliban takeover in August ended the western-backed government in Kabul.
Since a leadership meeting in the southern city of Kandahar in early March, the Taliban have issued repressive edicts almost daily, similar to their harsh rule of the late 1990s, further alienating a wary international community and infuriating many Afghans.
The rules include a ban on women flying alone; a ban on women in parks on certain days; a requirement that male workers wear a beard and the traditional turban. International news broadcasts have been banned and foreign TV shows taken off air.
Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said it was important for the Taliban to hear from the Muslim world that the “teachings of Islam do not confine women”.
"While we understand the sensitivity behind pledging for Afghanistan in this climate, we stress also the importance of not isolating Afghanistan again. This legitimises radical positions," said Mr Al Ansari.
"We have abandoned Afghanistan once and we know what the result was."
The UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths urged donors not to fall into the trap of neglecting the crisis in Afghanistan while seized by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
"Ukraine is of vital importance but Afghanistan calls to our soul for commitment and loyalty," Mr Griffiths told reporters, speaking from Kabul.