With the poverty rate already above 70 percent in Afghanistan, United Nations officials fear that the humanitarian crisis caused by almost 40 years of war and occupation could lead to widespread malnutrition and starvation in the coming months. According to United Nations Development Programme estimates, as many as 1 million children are at risk of starving before the winter arrives, while the poverty rate could be as high as 98 percent by next year. Already, one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from.
“After decades of war, suffering, and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said at a conference in Geneva held to address the crisis. Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, added that “at least 1 million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year and could die without treatment.”
Prior to Taliban takeover of the country last month, Afghanistan was already managing a food crisis because of a drought that killed off 40 percent of the year’s crops and caused the price of staples like wheat to spike 25 percent. Fighting during the Taliban’s successful offensive overrunning the Afghan Army also prevented many farmers from planting this past season.
U.N. officials said during the conference that $606 million in emergency funding of humanitarian aid would be required to stave off the most disastrous impacts of the nation’s food insecurity. On Monday, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield pledged $64 million in new funding for the cause. In total, over $1 billion in pledges were made at the conference. U.N. representatives also claimed this aid could be contingent on cooperation from the Taliban to allow the “operating rights of humanitarian agencies,” as Thomas-Greenfield said. At the conference, the U.N.’s director of humanitarian and emergency relief operations read a statement from the Taliban vowing to allow humanitarian groups to operate: “We assure you that we will remove previous and current impediments in front of your assistance and all related projects working under supervision of U.N and other international organizations in Afghanistan.”
It remains unclear what role sanctions will play in the relationship between the Taliban and the United States and international economic system. Already, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have stopped payments going to Afghanistan, while the Biden administration froze almost $10 billion in reserves. At a U.N. Security Council meeting last Thursday, deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said that “any legitimacy and support will have to be earned.”