Britain announced Tuesday it would co-host an international conference with the United Nations next month to help address the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where aid workers fear acute hunger could kill more people than the preceding 20 years of war.
The conference is being organized to raise $4.4 billion the U.N. is seeking to deliver food, shelter and health services to about 23 million Afghans — more than half of the country’s population – that need aid to survive.
“The scale of need is unparalleled, and consequences of inaction will be devastating,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.
“The conference is a critical moment for the international community to step up support in an effort to stop the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” Truss stressed.
Tuesday’s announcement comes nearly a week after a high-level British delegation traveled to the Afghan capital, Kabul, for talks with Taliban leaders on how to respond to Afghanistan’s deepening humanitarian crisis.
Aid agencies say humanitarian needs have skyrocketed in the war-torn country since the Taliban took power last year and U.S.-led international forces withdrew from the country.
When the Islamist group took control of Afghanistan on August 15, wide-ranging terrorism-related international sanctions dating back to the Taliban’s first time in power from 1996 to 2001 followed.
The United States and other Western nations have also suspended non-humanitarian funding, amounting to 40% of the country’s gross domestic product. The funding had propped up 75% of public spending, including basic services.
Washington has frozen about $9.5 billion in Afghan foreign assets, mostly held in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to keep the Taliban from accessing it.
The punitive financial measures have pushed the aid-dependent Afghan economy to the brink of collapse and exacerbated the simmering humanitarian crisis, which stems from more than four decades of conflict and natural calamities.
No country has recognized the Taliban government but international engagements with the group have gradually increased to help prevent one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.
The International Rescue Committee said Tuesday that 97% of the Afghan population is expected to be living well below the poverty line by the second half of this year.
“Unaddressed, the current humanitarian crisis could lead to more deaths than 20 years of war,” the IRC warned.
Vicki Aken, IRC Afghanistan director, said the current economic crisis is contributing to a “catastrophic” humanitarian emergency, urging the U.S. and Europe to review their policy to help address the Afghan economic crisis.
Aken blamed the international policies for driving Afghanistan’s slide towards catastrophe, rather than conflict or natural disaster.
“Right now, every day Afghans are being punished by international policies that are leaving millions on the brink of starvation, she said.
“The next six months necessitate an improvement, and the power to ensure it happens lies in the hands of the international community,” she said. The cost of failure is too high,” Aken warned.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has taken steps to allow for humanitarian operations to continue, making changes to U.S. laws and following it up with a resolution at the U.N. Security Council.
“The U.S. strongly encourages both direct provision of humanitarian assistance as well as financial transactions that support those agencies that are providing humanitarian assistance,” a USAID official told VOA. “We have made it legal.”
Some relatives of victims of the September 2001 terror attacks on the United States have sought to gain access to the Afghan frozen funds since the Taliban takeover, to pay out compensation claims.
On Friday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that will keep half of that money frozen for potential lawsuits and facilitate access to the other $3.5 billion to assist the Afghan people. The action has stoked anger among Afghans and critics warned it would worsen the economic crisis in the country.
Margaret Besheer at the UN contributed to this report.