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Children Left Behind In Afghanistan Face Food And Medicine Shortages, Government Warned

5 min read

Thousands of Afghan children unable to flee the country are at severe risk of missing out on humanitarian support unless the UK and other governments secure safe access to aid, global charities have warned.

Boris Johnson has claimed co-operation from the Taliban on human rights is a binding condition for international governments’ engagement with the violent militia group that has seized control of Afghanistan. 

But there is widespread concern that there is no process in place to ensure aid will be able to bypass the Taliban and reach those who need it when the deadline for troops to leave Afghanistan passes on 31 August. 

“We cannot afford to lose sight of those who will remain in the country,” Labour’s shadow international development secretary, Preet Kaur Gill said. 

“The UK must do all it can to keep humanitarian access into the country open for food, medicines and other lifesaving goods, and work with regional partners to keep land routes open so those in danger can flee safely.”

Orlaith Minogue, senior conflict and humanitarian advocacy adviser at Save the Children, worried that with so much focus on the effort to evacuate people from Kabul, there was a risk the long term consequences of the crisis would be overlooked.

“The evacuation of those who wish to flee is urgent – there’s a huge amount to be done in this initial phase – but it’s just the reality that we also need to be moving very swiftly to think about what comes next inside Afghanistan," she said. 

Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan for decades, and while they have temporarily suspended their projects after the government fell to the Taliban, the charity is desperate to resume their work as soon as possible.

They estimate that over a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the country within a matter of weeks, pushing the total number of people displaced since the beginning of 2021 to over 550,000, including 80,000 children. Many are living outside in the open under tarpaulins, with no access to food or medical care.

“We’re doing all that we can to call on the UK government and other key governments and authorities to make sure conditions are put in place that enable safe humanitarian access and allow us to reach children in need across the country,” Minogue added. 

“As president of the G7 and a UN security council member, the UK certainly has a position of power and responsibility to be putting in place key calls from the international community about humanitarian access, and ensuring staff, including females, can safely move on the ground, both on the frontline and in the office. 

“They absolutely do have power as long as they prioritise this as a key situation.”

Unicef has estimated that around 10 million children across the country need humanitarian assistance to survive, with one million projected to suffer from severe malnutrition. A spokesperson for the charity said they were currently in communication with the Taliban to allow them to reach vulnerable children, and “are cautiously hopeful that this will continue to be the case”. 

But the charity insisted that it was vital international governments worked to ensure they continued to have “safe, timely and unfettered access to reach children in need wherever they are”.The risk of severe food shortages are now looming, with The World Food Programme suggesting 14 million people in Afghanistan could starve without urgent aid. Wheat stocks could run out by October. They are now trying to raise $200 million to keep supplies going over the winter but things need to move quickly as the country's winter weather can block key routes.

International development organisation Bond, has warned against aid being used as a bargaining chip with the Taliban, after the issue of holding back development money became a live topic for government ministers and MPs eariler this week. 

“We would urge the government to not conflate humanitarian efforts to help Afghans with political motives to hold the Taliban to account via UK aid because vulnerable people will ultimately end up paying the price if this happens,” Stephanie Draper, Bond’s chief executive told PoliticsHome.

Maryann Horne, head of humanitarian policy at the British Red Cross, expressed similar concern, and insisted aid needed to get to those in need “independently of political or other considerations.”Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said the UK government will use all the “levers at our disposal” in relation to the Taliban, referencing aid and access to international financial institutions.

“If the Taliban want to avoid the collapse of the economy, the social fabric such as it is, they’re going to need to live up to some of the assurances they’ve made,” he told the BBC on Wednesday. 

Raab added that the Taliban would only get access to foreign aid if they lived up to those assurances, including on safe passage for those wishing to leave the country. 

Later on Wednesday the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office updated its guidance for UK citizens still in Afghanistan telling them not to go to Kabul airport as it is no longer considered safe from terrorist attacks. Defence secretary Ben Wallace was briefed MPs that Afghans attempting to flee would be safer trying to reach the border. 

FCDO officials held a roundtable with 30 leading aid charities and NGOs on 20 August to discuss what is needed on the ground, and a second meeting is taking place on Thursday.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the minister for Afghanistan, also met with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Under Secretary General of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the director of the International Organisation for Migration earlier this week.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “The UK is doubling our aid to Afghanistan and the region to a total of £286 million this year. 

“To ensure our aid reaches the people that need it most, we are in daily contact with our partners in Afghanistan and we will continue to engage with them directly as the situation develops. Last week in London we hosted a round table with NGOs to better understand how we can support their life-saving work.”

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