One million Afghan children could die in ‘most perilous hour’ – UN


Top United Nations (UN) officials warned that millions of people could run out of food before the arrival of winter and one million children could die if their immediate needs are not met.

“Since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the nation’s poverty rate has been soaring, basic public services are close to collapse and, in the past year, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless after being forced to flee fighting,” said Guterres, speaking at a high-level UN conference in Geneva on Monday (Sept. 13) to address the crisis.

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

More than US$1 billion in aid pledges had been made at the meeting by the international community, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, America’s ambassador to the UN, promised US$64 million in new funding for food and medical aid.

With the prospect of humanitarian catastrophe long looming over the nation like the sword of Damocles, it now poses an immediate threat to the nation’s children.

“Nearly 10 million girls and boys depend on humanitarian assistance just to survive,” Henrietta H. Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said at the conference.

“At least one million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year and could die without treatment.”

Even before the Taliban swept across the country and took control of the government, Afghanistan was confronting a dire food crisis as drought enveloped the nation.

The World Food Programme estimates that 40% of crops are lost. The price of wheat has gone up by 25% and the aid agency’s own food stock is expected to run out by the end of September.

The suffering wrought by conflict and made worse by climate change has been compounded by the uncertainty that has accompanied the Taliban’s ascent, with many international aid workers having fled the country out of safety concerns. Those who remain are unsure if they will be able to continue their work.

During the conference, the UN said it needed US$606 million in emergency funding to address the immediate crisis, while acknowledging that money alone will not be enough. The organisation has pressed the Taliban to provide assurances that aid workers can go about their business safely. By the end of the gathering, international pledges had surpassed the amount requested.

But even as the Taliban sought to make that pledge, the UN’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, also speaking in Geneva, said Afghanistan was in a “new and perilous phase” since the militant Islamist group seized power.

“In contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere,” she told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a warning that the Taliban would need to use more than words to demonstrate their commitment to aid workers’ safety.

Monday’s conference was also intended to drive home the enormity of the crisis and offer some reassurance to Western governments hesitant to provide assistance that could legitimise the authority of a Taliban government that includes leaders identified by the UN as international terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda. (Source: The Straits Times)