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UN Launches Historic $2 Billion Humanitarian Appeal to Save Afghan Children

During a mobile health and nutrition team visit in Nasaji village, a nutrition nurse measures arm circumference of a child to determine their nutritional status in Nasaji village in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched its largest ever single-country appeal Tuesday to urgently respond to the humanitarian needs of “over 24 million people in Afghanistan, half of whom are children."

The relief agency said the appeal for $2 billion would help avert the imminent collapse of health, nutrition, education water, sanitation and hygiene as well as other social services for children in the country where families are struggling to heat their homes and keep their children warm in harsh winter conditions.

Alice Akunga, UNICEF country representative, noted in a statement that the current humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is dire, especially for children. She said without additional funding, her agency and partners will not be able to reach the children and families that urgently need relief assistance.

“As families struggle to put nutritious food on the table and health systems are further strained, millions of Afghan children are at risk of starvation and death,” warned Akunga.

She urged donors to support Afghanistan’s children through its humanitarian appeal to keep children alive, well-fed, safe and learning. “It won’t be easy but with the lives and wellbeing of so many children at stake, we must rise to the challenge,” she said.

UNICEF estimates that one in two children under five in Afghanistan will be “acutely malnourished” in 2022 due to the food crisis and lack of access to key social services.

Islamia, 5-month-old and severely malnourished, lies on a bed at the neonatal intensive care unit of the Mirwais regional hospital.
Islamia, 5-month-old and severely malnourished, lies on a bed at the neonatal intensive care unit of the Mirwais regional hospital.

In addition, 10 million children are at risk of dropping out of school if teacher salaries are not paid and crippling poverty levels continue, according to the U.N. agency.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August following the United States-led Western military withdrawal from the country and the ensuing punitive international financial sanctions on the Islamist group have increased humanitarian needs to unprecedented levels. The humanitarian crisis stems from years of war, high levels of poverty and a nationwide drought.

The worsening economic and humanitarian crisis is prompting desperate Afghan families to try to flee to neighboring countries.

Up to 5,000 Afghans are crossing into neighboring Iran daily, using illegal border routes between with the help of human smugglers, and more than 300,000 people have crossed into Iran in the past three months, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“The Afghan state is collapsing after the world responded to the Taliban takeover by freezing state assets, cutting aid and offering only limited sanctions relief for humanitarian purposes,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Monday.

The ICG noted in its report that Afghan government employees lack salaries, basic services are not being delivered, the financial sector is paralyzed, and the economy is in freefall.

“The rising number of people fleeing the country could provoke another migration crisis. State collapse would mark a terrible stain on the reputation of Western countries, which is already tarnished by chaotic withdrawal,” the ICG said.