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One million Afghan children could die at the most dangerous hour, the UN warns

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Millions of Afghans could be left without food before winter arrives and one million children are at risk of starvation and death if their immediate needs are not met, senior United Nations officials warned on Monday, putting the country in dire straits.

Secretary-General Antnio Guterres, speaking at a UN high-level conference in Geneva to address the crisis, said that since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month, the level of national poverty has risen. and basic public services have collapsed and, in the past year, hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless after being forced to flee the fighting.

After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most dangerous hour, Guterres said, adding that one in three Afghans do not know where they will get their next meal.

The deepening humanitarian crisis tops a series of dizzying challenges facing the new Taliban regime as it runs the government of a country backed for decades with the help of international donors.

Speaking to the media on Monday afternoon, Mr. Guterres said more than $ 1 billion in aid had been pledged at the meeting by the international community, which is still working on how to work with an organization like the Taliban, with a history of brutality and human rights abuses.

Across the country, the signs of a humanitarian crisis are becoming more and more pronounced every day. In Wardak Province, less than an hour’s drive west of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the Taliban’s military campaign has pushed the local economy to a halt this summer. Weeks after the Taliban took power, most cross-border trade and many local businesses have not yet reopened leaving many with no income, although food prices are rising.

Now for sure, we are happy about it, said Zakaria, a villager in Chak district of Wardak Province and a former Taliban fighter who was serving a 16-year sentence in Kabul’s Pul-e-Charkhi prison when the Taliban took power and released prisoners But there is no work, people are not able to make money, he added.

The price of flour doubled in the domestic market, Zakaria said. Villagers stopped cooking chicken and other meat now a luxury in favor of less expensive foods with beans and rice. Many started eating less, unsure of how they would pay for their next meal.

Although widespread malnutrition is emerging, hospitals that once treated people for starvation are now facing potential collapse. At a local hospital in Chak-e Wardak, administrators have not been able to pay salaries or buy new medicines with banks still closed, according to Faridullah, the facility’s resident doctor.

Most of our medicines, facilities and livelihoods are provided by foreign countries, said Dr. Faridullah. We do not have shortages in the hospital now, but our facilities and staff depend on funds coming from abroad and we cannot access them.

On Monday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, pledged $ 64 million in new funding for food and medical care.

The prospect of the long-awaited humanitarian catastrophe over the nation now poses an immediate threat to its children.

Nearly 10 million girls and boys depend on humanitarian aid just to survive, said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF executive director, at the conference. At least one million children will suffer from acute malnutrition this year and may die without treatment.

Even before the Taliban took over the entire country and took control of the government, Afghanistan was facing a terrible food crisis as drought engulfed the nation.

The World Food Program estimates that 40 percent of crops are lost. The price of wheat has risen by 25 per cent and aid agencies’ food stocks are expected to run out by the end of September.

Suffering caused by the conflict and exacerbated by climate change has been compounded by the uncertainty that has accompanied the rise of the Taliban, with many international aid workers fleeing the country due to security concerns. Those who remain are not sure if they will be able to continue their work.

During the conference on Monday, the UN said it needed $ 606 million in emergency funding to address the immediate crisis, while acknowledging that the money alone would not be enough. The organization has pressured the Taliban to provide assurances that aid workers can conduct their business safely. By the end of the rally, international commitments had exceeded the required amount.

But even though the Taliban tried to make that promise, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, also speaking in Geneva, said Afghanistan was at a new and dangerous stage since the Islamic militant group came to power. .

Contrary to assurances that the Taliban will protect women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have been progressively excluded from the public sphere, she said, a warning that the Taliban will have to use more than words to demonstrate commitment. their for worker safety assistance.

Monday’s conference also aimed to bring home the magnitude of the crisis and provide reassurance to Western governments that were reluctant to provide assistance that could legitimize the authority of a Taliban government that includes leaders identified by the UN as international terrorists with links to Al Qaeda. with

Martin Griffiths, the UN director-general for humanitarian operations and emergency aid, visited Kabul last week and said Taliban authorities had promised to facilitate the distribution of aid.

We assure you that we will remove previous and current obstacles before your assistance and all related projects working under the auspices of the UN and other international organizations in Afghanistan, the Taliban said in verbal and later written commitments that Mr. Griffiths read at conference With The Taliban also promised to protect the lives and property of humanitarian workers and guard their complexes.

On Sunday, Taliban authorities sent assurances that they would facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid on the streets, he added.

Despite the risks, UN aid organizations are still working in the country and are among the few international life lines left for hundreds of thousands in need.

Since coming to power, the Taliban have been largely isolated both politically and economically from the rest of the world.

The World Bank has cut funding for new projects, the International Monetary Fund has suspended payments to Afghanistan, and the Biden administration has frozen Afghanistan’s central bank assets held in the United States.

While China has made friendly efforts against the Taliban and offered about $ 30 million in aid, this is part of the aid the country was planned to receive before Taliban control.

At a rally in November 2020, donor countries engaged about $ 12 billion in aid to Afghanistan over four yearswith

While the Taliban did not have a representative in Geneva for the meeting, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy minister of information and culture, said the government welcomes all humanitarian efforts by any nation, including the United States.

He also acknowledged that even the Taliban did not expect to be in control of the country so quickly.

It was a surprise to us how the former administration left the government, he said. We were not fully prepared for this and we are still trying to understand things to manage the crisis and try to help people in every way possible.

Most banks in the country remain closed and Mr. Mujahid said there were no immediate plans to reopen them, citing the risk of people attacking them.

He called on the United States to increase funding for the Afghan government.

For the hundreds of thousands displaced by the fighting, their needs are immediate and are becoming more acute day by day.

More than half a million Afghans have been displaced from their homes by fighting and insecurity this year, bringing the total number of internally displaced people to 3.5 million, said Filippo Grandi, the UN refugee chief.

The risk of economic collapse raised the possibility of boosting the outflow of refugees to neighboring countries.

Said, 33, lived in Kunduz before fleeing to Kabul, where he now lives in a tent in a park. He has been there with his wife and three children for a month.

It is cold here, we have no food, we have no shelter and we do not find work in this city, he said, adding that he had not received any help. We all have children and they need food and shelter, and it is not easy to live here.

Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting by Chak-e Wardak, Afghanistan. Sami Sahak contributed reporting.

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2/ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/13/world/asia/afghanistan-united-nations-crisis.html

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