UN food agency: $800m urgently needed for Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) – The U.N. food agency said Monday it urgently needs $800 million for the next six months to help Afghanistan, which is at the highest risk of famine in a quarter of a century.

Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover of August 2021 and the economic collapse that followed it. But distribution has been severely impacted by a Taliban edict last December banning women from working at national and international nongovernmental groups.

The U.N. was not part of this ban but last week it said the Taliban-led government has stopped Afghan women from working at its agencies in the country. Authorities have yet to comment on the restriction.

The World Food Program said women aid workers play a vital role in delivering the agency’s food and nutrition assistance and that it it will make “every possible effort” to keep this going, while also trying to ensure the active involvement of female staff.

“The WFP urgently needs $800 million for the next six months to continue providing assistance to people in need across Afghanistan,” the organization said. “Catastrophic hunger knocks on Afghanistan’s doors and unless humanitarian support is sustained, hundreds of thousands more Afghans will need assistance to survive.”

The U.N. said Monday that its Afghan operations remain severely under-funded, with $249 million reported to be confirmed for 2023, nearly one-third of the amount received for the same period in 2022.

It said Afghanistan is dealing with its third consecutive year of drought-like conditions, a second year of crippling economic decline, and is still suffering from decades of conflict and natural disasters.

“The total ‘immediate’ funding requirements to address critical gaps for the coming three months is $717.4 million,” according to a statement from the agency’s office for humanitarian affairs. “This is all part of an overall funding gap of $4.38 billion across the humanitarian response for 2023.”

It previously said that Afghanistan is its lowest-funded operation globally, despite being the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

The Taliban takeover drove millions of Afghans into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions on Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves restricted access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

The country’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, said Afghanistan’s assets have been illegally and unjustly frozen. He called for Afghanistan’s seat at the U.N. to be handed over to the Taliban-led government. It is still held by the government of former President Ashraf Ghani.

In a video statement shared Monday by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy spokesman, Hafiz Zia Ahmad, Muttaqi said U.N. offices and other international institutions are open in Kabul. He did not directly address the ban on female Afghan U.N. staffers in his remarks.

“They are active here, so our relationship is good so far,” said Muttaqi. “We are trying to represent Afghanistan at the United Nations, it is the right of Afghans. But now (Afghanistan’s seat) is in the hands of someone who does not represent Afghanistan, does not represent the people, and there is no other group that represents them.”

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