Guterres calls for urgent action for humanitarian response in Afghanistan


United Nations, April 1 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for urgent action to support the humanitarian response in Afghanistan.

The already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated alarmingly over the past months, Xinhua news agency quoted the UN chief as saying at a virtual high-level pledging event for the war-torn nation.

Some 95 per cent of people do not have enough to eat. Nine million people are at risk of famine. The Unicef estimates that one million severely malnourished children are on the verge of death unless there is immediate action, he said.

And global food prices are skyrocketing. This spells catastrophe for both Afghans struggling to feed their families, and for aid operations, he warned.

“Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan. People are already selling their children and their body parts in order to feed their families.”

Afghanistan’s economy has effectively collapsed. There is very little cash. More than 80 per cent of the population are in debt. Key workers in vital services including schools and hospitals have not been paid for months. Businesses cannot operate. International aid agencies can barely function, and local partners face even greater hurdles. Livelihoods have evaporated and farmers cannot buy seeds or fertilisers. The UN Development Programme has warned that without action, 97 per cent of Afghans could be living below the poverty line by the middle of this year, he said.

Humanitarian needs have tripled since last June. And they are growing — day by day and month by month. The international community must find ways to spare the Afghan people from the impact of the decision to halt development support to Afghanistan, and to freeze nearly $9 billion in Afghan assets overseas. It must make cash available, so the Afghan economy can breathe, and the Afghan people can eat. Wealthy, powerful countries cannot ignore the consequences of their decisions on the most vulnerable, said Guterres.

He stressed that the first step in any meaningful humanitarian response must be to halt the death spiral of the Afghan economy. Without that, even the best-funded and most effective aid operation will not save the people of Afghanistan from an unimaginable future.

The UN funding appeal for Afghanistan this year is $4.4 billion, the world’s largest appeal for a single country. Together with partners, the UN aims to reach 22 million people. So far, the appeal is less than 13 per cent funded, he said.

“I appeal to you to provide unconditional and flexible funding as soon as possible. I also call on all those with influence to use it to ensure continued safe, rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian staff — women and men alike — to all parts of Afghanistan.”

Last year, humanitarian partners reached nearly 20 million people across all parts of Afghanistan with life-saving assistance.

So far this year, the World Food Programme has reached more than 14 million people with food, nutrition and resilience support, the UN chief noted.


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