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Western powers have days to avoid catastrophic humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan

Western powers have days to avoid catastrophic humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan
Shabnam Nasimi

Shabnam Nasimi

4 min read

The story of the eight orphaned children who starved to death took over social media last week. Losing their bedridden father and grief-stricken mother, meant they were left to fend for themselves on the streets of Kabul, with the youngest just two years old.

At the start of this year, their plight would have been tragic as Afghanistan was barely surviving before the Taliban took over. But today, as United Nations warns that more than half of Afghans are now short of food, and the catastrophe will soon eclipse crises in Yemen and Syria, it is becoming the norm; with only 5 per cent of households having enough to eat every day.

As the World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley states: “Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises – if not the worst – and food security has all but collapsed. This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation,” adding that “we are on a countdown to catastrophe”.

Hearing that people are being forced to do the unthinkable to feed their children, by selling their babies, makes the desperation and urgency of the situation hard to put into words

Speaking to relatives in Kabul, it devastates me as a British Afghan to hear that the number of beggars – including children – has risen. Urban residents, for the first time, suffer similar rates of food insecurity to rural communities; a shifting pattern of hunger in the country. And hearing that people are being forced to do the unthinkable to be able to feed their children, by selling their babies, makes the desperation and urgency of the situation hard to put into words.

The entire healthcare system in Afghanistan was funded by foreign money, which has now stopped. Speaking to friends in Herat, I hear that doctors and nurses have not been paid for months and there is no money to buy medical supplies. In addition to this, we are hearing that MoneyGram and Western Union are largely unavailable for transfers to Afghanistan, with Afghans living abroad unable to support their family members by sending money.

A former government employee, Qasem (not his real name), 45, who I have been in touch with for the past few years, recently told me that he and his wife have been out on the streets begging. “I used to work for the Ministry of Education but haven’t been paid my final salary for 3 months now”, he tells me on a phone call. With tears running down his face, he says “I have been a public servant for 10 years, graduating from Kabul University and today I am begging so that my family won’t starve this winter.”

While these testimonies highlight the personal tragedies echoed across the country, the true scale of the crisis remains hidden. Many international organisations, Embassies and NGOs have withdrawn their staff following the Taliban takeover, leaving a gap in understanding of what is really happening – essential to the success of any international effort.

We can and should demand full and transparent information from the Taliban, but that cannot be relied upon. The work of groups such as Afghan Witness, gathering and verifying information from social media and individuals on the ground, can be valuable in filling the gap and assessing whether the Taliban are delivering on their claims and pledges.

Afghanistan cannot wait while the world debates whether to recognise a Taliban government – nor for the Taliban to learn how to govern.  

The only alternative we have is aiding the people of Afghanistan through international humanitarian NGOs. The Taliban have shown no proof that they can be trusted and shouldn't be receiving any financial support. We know very well that it will not reach the people on the ground, just as it didn’t during Ghani’s government.

It is welcome news that the UK has pledged £286 million in aid to Afghanistan, and £50 million is the first allocation of that sum that will help provide food, shelter, and medicine throughout the winter to more than two million Afghans, delivered via the United Nations and the Red Cross. Last week, the G20 also reaffirmed its commitment to send $1.15 billion in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

But the time is now for other Western powers to act. Preventing a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan and preserving the gains of the last twenty years will require a truly global effort.  The UK and its allies have profound links, interests, and obligations in Afghanistan. The country urgently needs a generous and rapid assistance.

We don't have weeks. We have days to avoid a catastrophic human tragedy that we may not be able to come back from.


Shabnam Nasimi is the executive director of Conservative Friends of Afghanistan.

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