Women in Burka in Kunduz City distributing humanitarian aid after the U.S. and other Western forces pulled out of the country after almost 20 years. Photo credit: Wanman Uthmaniyyah

Afghanistan is silently starving, UN calls on international community for emergency help

Almost seven months after the Taliban toppled the government, Afghanistan refugees and Americans evacuated the country. Now, a collapsing economy and natural disaster further plague the so-called Graveyard of Empires. 

In Geneva on January 11, United Nations (UN) officials announced the Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan. The initiative pledges to help 22 million Afghanistan locals and 5.7 million refugees with nearly $5 billion in relief funds. Said humanitarian appeal is the largest ever for a sole country. Although a temporary measure, it is urgent according to UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths at the UN’s press conference speaking on the matter. From the UN’s analysis, the situation is dire, it could snowball if not appropriately addressed. 

“This is a stop-gap, an absolutely essential stop-gap measure that we are putting in front of the international community today. Without this being funded, there won’t be a future, we need this to be done, otherwise there will be outflow, there will be suffering,” Griffiths explained.  

In addition to other atrocities faced by the population, funds are supposed to directly support medical professionals. Indeed, basic health services are non-existent at the moment.

Amidst a full scale humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan is suffering. At this time, about half of the citizens left behind are facing acute hunger. To add, millions of children are out of school as the rights of women and girls are severely undermined. 

Moreover, their economy is in shambles to say the least. Mostly surrounded by desert, the eastern nation’s climate is continental, meaning they get searing summers and arctic winters. Since last year’s midpoint, residents experienced a longstanding drought threatening crops. Ultimately, the livelihoods of farmers and the consuming public hangs in the balance as many are at risk of dying from malnutrition.

. . . .
Children at a humanitarian aid camp in Kabul. Photo credit: Wanman Uthmaniyyah

“You have a kind of combination effect of displacement caused by war and by military hostilities compounded with displacement caused by drought and by the difficult economic conditions,”  UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told Reuters.

Regarding the enormous number of displaced Afghans, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for $623 million in aid for refugees and hosts in the five neighboring nations, including Pakistan and Iran. 

Grandi urged members to increase their support in order to avoid disaster. He asserts, “The international community must do everything it can to prevent a catastrophe in Afghanistan . . . the needs of refugees cannot be dismissed nor can the generosity of host countries be taken for granted. They need support and they need it today.”

The changing of the guard

In August 2021, the Taliban seized control of the capital city Kabul and much of the country. This comes 20 years after the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a bombing campaign against Taliban forces. With the help of British and other allies, the insurrectionist group was ousted in 2001.

Ninety percent of Americans were out by U.S. President Biden’s August 31 deadline, troops were recalled in September. As a result, more than 123,000 Afghans fled after the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 14. They join the already 2.2 million refugees worldwide and 3.5 million displaced within Afghanistan according to the Council on Foreign Relations.  The latter figure has now expanded to include approximately 9 million homeless. The UN estimated half a million Afghans could flee the country by the end of 2021.

Although the Taliban conflict has lessened, their presence maintains an atmosphere of fear. Added to the milieu of instability, violence is always on the precipice. Worsening circumstances, pandemic-era shortages and financial security only place more pressure on host countries. If the burdens are too great, Afghanistan refugees live in an uncomfortable limbo as they may decide to return to war-torn home, or lack thereof.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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