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Afghanistan winter ‘will be hell on earth’

12 November 2021

More than half the population are facing starvation, UN warns

Alamy

Tania, a five-year-old Afghan girl, learns how to read the Qur’an at Zainabia Madrassa, in Kabul, on Saturday

Tania, a five-year-old Afghan girl, learns how to read the Qur’an at Zainabia Madrassa, in Kabul, on Saturday

DESPERATE parents in Afghanistan are selling their children to obtain food as millions teeter on the brink of starvation, while humanitarian services are crippled by international sanctions.

The head of the UN World Food programme, David Beasley, warned on Sunday that, by winter, Afghanistan would be “hell on earth”.

About 23 million people — more than half the population — are facing starvation within months, and the next six months are likely to be “catastrophic”, as cold temperatures are forecast.

In a message to world leaders, Mr Beasley said: “To the world leaders, to the billionaires: imagine if this was your little girl, or your little boy, or your grandchild about to starve to death. You would do everything you could. And when there is $400 trillion of wealth on the earth today — shame on us if we let any child die from hunger. I don’t care where that child is: shame on us.”

Mr Beasley was speaking in Afghanistan to the BBC’s world ed­­itor, John Simpson. In a subsequent broadcast, Mr Simpson wept as he related the plight of one mother and her seven children describing them as “grindingly poor already”.

“I’ve seen a lot of bad things in my time, but this hasn’t yet happened, and yet you know this is just around the corner. And they know it,” he said.

Some reports have suggested that hospitals are already overwhelmed with malnourished babies and children, and many are dying.

Afghanistan’s international funds — about $9.5 billion — were frozen by governments in the West after the Taliban took power, and international support has dried up as countries refuse to recognise the Taliban. Millions of workers, including medical staff, have not been paid for months. The Taliban has now banned the use of foreign currencies in Afghanistan, further damaging the economy.

The country is also suffering from a severe drought, which has ruined much of its wheat crop and sent prices soaring.

The economic collapse is crippling the work of aid agencies in the country. The UN emergency appeal for Afghanistan is only half funded: it has a shortfall of $276 million.

A coalition of 17 aid organisations has called on world leaders to “stop playing politics with people’s lives”, and reinstate funds to Afghanistan.

Christian Aid, a member of the coalition, has been working in Afghanistan for 30 years. It said that it was continuing to work to distribute food, but it was impossible to run a humanitarian programme without a functioning banking system.

The head of global policy and advocacy for Christian Aid, Fionna Smyth, said: “John Simpson’s emotional broadcast — a reporter who has covered some of the world’s most violent conflicts — should act as a wake-up call to leaders in the UK and across the world.

“Like the UN, John Simpson is right to warn that the already desperate situation in Afghanistan will only get worse as the harsh winter arrives. With Afghanistan on the verge of starvation, and reports that mothers are selling children to buy just the simple basics, urgent action is needed.

“Until G20 leaders enable cash to flow back into Afghanistan via the banking system, however, almost all our humanitarian efforts will be left crippled. Inaction risks innocent lives.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has called for transactions for humanitarian activities to be excluded from sanctions, and warned against “conditional humanitarianism” or attempts to “leverage” humanitarian assistance for political purposes

The International Monetary Fund has also warned that Afghanistan’s economic collapse could fuel a refugee crisis, which would affect neighbouring Turkey and Europe.

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