UN calls for record $4.4 billion for Afghans battling Taliban

GENEVA (AP) — The UN aid coordination office, backed by Britain, Germany and Qatar, is launching its largest ever fundraising appeal for a single country in hopes of raising $4 $.4 billion to help Afghanistan, a decidedly ambitious appeal to help poor countries again run by Taliban militants as much of the world’s attention is focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Ukraine is vitally important, but Afghanistan, you know, calls our souls to commitment and loyalty,” said Martin Griffiths, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. , ahead of Thursday’s pledge campaign. “Simply put, the humanitarian program we are appealing for is to save lives.”

Less than a year after Taliban fighters overthrew its internationally-backed government, Afghanistan is reeling in a debilitating humanitarian crisis and a plummeting economy. Some 23 million people face acute food insecurity, according to the UN.

“The economy is too weak to sustain the lives of ordinary people, women, men and children,” Griffiths told reporters on Wednesday. “Given these dire circumstances, we are today calling on donors to fund the largest-ever humanitarian appeal for a single country: we are asking for $4.4 billion to help the people of Afghanistan, when they need it. no longer needed, for this year.”

The appeal is triple what the agency sought for Afghanistan a year earlier, an amount donors have met.

“I have no doubt that we won’t hit the target of $4.4 billion tomorrow in pledges, but we will work on it,” Griffiths said.

Since a leaders’ meeting in the southern city of Kandahar in early March, hardliners of the Taliban have issued repressive edicts almost daily, reminiscent of their harsh rule of the late 1990s, further alienating an international community distrustful and infuriating to many Afghans.

The edicts include a ban on women flying alone; a ban on women in parks on certain days; a requirement that male workers wear beards and the traditional turban. International media broadcasts like the BBC’s Persian and Pashto services have been banned and foreign TV series have been taken off the air.

A surprising last-minute ban on girls returning to school after sixth grade has shocked the international community and many Afghans. In schools across the country, girls returned to class on March 23 – the first day of the new Afghan school year – only to be sent home.

“Constraining rights based on gender is contrary to values ​​that we all hold very dear, and also constrains the development and eventual prosperity of this extraordinary country that we are here to help and serve,” Griffiths said. “We want to see these prohibitions, these constraints removed.”

“I hope that doesn’t mean that the promise we have from this conference is limited,” he added.

Many donor countries are seeking to help beleaguered Afghans while largely avoiding the Taliban, fearing their repressive rule may return – but the aid agency has suggested political and economic engagement from abroad should also return one day .

“It’s very important for the international community to engage with the Taliban over time on issues beyond humanitarians,” Griffiths said. “Humanitarian aid does not replace other forms of engagement.”

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Gannon reported from Islamabad.

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