The Washington Post
U.N. donors pledge more than $1 billion for Afghanistan
A U.N. donor conference for Afghanistan on Monday raised more than $1 billion in emergency assistance to combat a humanitarian crisis that deepened after the Taliban took power, triggering diplomatic isolation along with a precipitous loss of foreign aid.
Afghanistan was reeling from multiple calamities even before the U.S. withdrawal last month, including a severe drought affecting a third of the country and mass displacement of civilians. Now, “1 in 3 Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said as the conference in Geneva got underway. “The poverty rate is spiraling, and basic public services are close to collapse.”
“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” he said. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour.”
Nongovernmental agencies such as the United Nations are among the few remaining organizations equipped to deliver assistance to Afghanistan, after Western governments and financial institutions suspended foreign aid that accounted for the lion’s share of the government’s budget. The question of how the international community will prevent Afghanistan’s financial collapse is among multiple quandaries posed by the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country.
Last month, the Biden administration froze Afghan reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, preventing the Taliban from accessing some $9 billion in overseas funds and leaving experts to warn that the move could hasten a dire financial crisis in Afghanistan.
The amount raised Monday was double the $600 million the United Nations had solicited as a stopgap solution to provide aid to 11 million people over the next four months. None of the money will go directly to, or through, the Taliban government. Instead. it will be routed through the United Nations and nongovernmental partner organizations still operating in the country. Aid officials cautioned that the humanitarian assistance would not resolve the broader question of how the government will continue to operate, amid reports of spiraling inflation and a cash crunch that has left Afghans unable to withdraw their funds from banks.
“The international community must find ways to make cash available to allow the Afghan economy to breathe,” Guterres said. “A total collapse would have devastating consequences to the people and risk to destabilize the neighboring countries with a massive outflow” of people, he added.
At the conference Monday, donor governments expressed concern about the Taliban’s actions since taking power, including its refusal to form an inclusive interim government and its repression of women and girls. At the same time, aid officials stressed that funding for humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditions — reflecting fears that aid would be used as leverage to win concessions from the Taliban on human rights and other issues.
“The lives of millions of Afghan civilians are at stake, and so any sanctions or counterterrorism measures applied by member states must always exclude, exempt impartial humanitarian activities from their scope,” said Martin Griffiths, the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator.
After a visit to Kabul last week, Griffiths said, he had received written assurance from the militants that they would remove “impediments” to assistance by the United Nations and other international organizations. “We will protect life, property and honor of the humanitarian workers and will remove hurdles in front of them,” the Taliban wrote, according to Griffiths. “We have made it clear in all public forums that we are committed to all rights of women, rights of minorities and principles of freedom of expression in the light of religion and culture,” they added.
The United States was pledging $64 million in new funding Monday, bringing its total commitment to $330 million in the current fiscal year, announced Linda Thomas- Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“Words are not good enough,” she said, referring to the Taliban’s pledges. “We must see action. The international community is unified in this message — humanitarian aid agencies cannot do their job if the Taliban does not uphold those core commitments and humanitarian principals.”
At a separate event Monday, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations’ top human rights official, said her office had received “deeply troubling” accounts of Taliban raids on “some nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups.” And over the past few weeks, it had received numerous reports that the Taliban was suppressing the rights of women and girls, including by requiring women to have male chaperones, prohibiting girls over 12 from attending school in places and threatening women’s civil society groups.