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UN chief urges donors to give Afghans ‘lifeline’

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during a hosts aid conference on Afghanistan, in Geneva on September 13, 2021. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

UN chief Antonio Guterres called Monday for countries to dig deep and provide desperately needed aid to Afghans, and to support women and others whose rights appear threatened by the Taliban.

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Speaking to ministers gathered for a donor conference for the violence-torn country, Guterres insisted that “the people of Afghanistan need a lifeline”.

“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” he said at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva.

“Let us be clear: This conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe.”

His comments came just under a month after the Taliban swept into power in Afghanistan, sparking a chaotic exit for the United States and its allies after 20 years in the country.

The half-day conference is seeking to raise the $606 million humanitarian agencies say is urgently needed to provide life-saving aid to millions of Afghans over the four final months of the year.

Among other things, the money is needed for critical food and livelihood assistance for nearly 11 million people and essential health services for 3.4 million.

Most of the requested funds had already been asked for at the end of last year as part of a $1.3-billion humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan, which remains severely underfunded.

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But nearly a third of the requested funds are fresh needs that have arisen with the Taliban’s takeover.

Multiple crises
Guterres stressed that Afghans were experiencing “one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world” even before the Taliban takeover on August 15.

Some 40 percent of the country’s GDP was already drawn from foreign funding, according to the UN.

And half of the population was already dependent on humanitarian aid.

Afghanistan is facing a devastating drought and mass displacement in addition to the impact of Covid-19.

Fears now abound that other countries’ reluctance to deal with the Taliban could push Afghanistan over the edge.

Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on Afghanistan, urged countries last week to keep money flowing in despite concerns over the Taliban government to “prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order”.

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Guterres announced that the UN would release $20 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to support the humanitarian operation in Afghanistan.

But he stressed that more money was needed — and quickly.

He also highlighted the need to safeguard human rights in the country.

The Islamist hardliners have pledged a more moderate brand of rule than in their notoriously oppressive 1996-2001 reign.

But they have moved swiftly to crush dissent and there are worrying signs that women and girls could once again be largely barred from public life.

“One of the bright spots of Afghanistan today is the new generation of women leaders and entrepreneurs, educated and flourishing over the last two decades,” he said.

“Afghan women and girls want to ensure that gains are not lost, doors are not closed and hope is not extinguished.”

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