U.S. announces fresh $308 million in aid for struggling Afghans

The United States announced Tuesday that it is providing more than $ 308 million in humanitarian aid to the Afghan people to aid Afghans facing economic collapse under the new Taliban administration.

The White House said the government will also send an additional 1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the country, which is grappling not only with the global pandemic, but also with widespread hunger following the takeover of the militant group and the US exit .

The United Nations and aid organizations have repeatedly warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in the 38 million-inhabitant country. On Tuesday, they called for a record $ 4.4 billion aid as “essential bridging” to alleviate the suffering.

Washington and its Western allies are trying to aid the Afghan people while bypassing their Taliban rulers. Countries that have refused to recognize the Taliban government have suspended foreign aid on which the state relied and frozen billions in Afghan assets overseas, mostly in the US.

Women line up in Kabul, Afghanistan, on November 20, 2021 to receive cash at a money distribution organized by the World Food Program.Petros Giannakouris / AP

The new aid will flow through independent humanitarian organizations and help provide assistance such as basic health care, emergency food, water and sanitation in response to the population’s growing humanitarian needs, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement on the Contribution to assistance.

The new commitment is in addition to the roughly US $ 474 million that the US has provided for Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in the region since October 2021.

“The United States is committed to supporting the Afghan people and we continue to review all options available to us. We stand by the side of the Afghan people. ”She added.

The US withdrew from Afghanistan in August, ending the US’s longest war after a lightning-fast offensive by the Taliban. The country was already desperately poor, but when the Taliban took power on August 15, the economy fell from the ground.

A combination of severe drought and sanctions against the Taliban, which cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in international funding, has slumped the economy. The government has been largely unable to pay salaries, jobs across the economy have fallen, and food prices are rising.

A mother holds her four-year-old daughter, who is suffering from acute malnutrition, at her home near Herat, Afghanistan in December. Mstyslav Chernov / AP

This has marginalized poor Afghans, forcing some to sell their property and even their daughters to bring food to the table.

Meanwhile, the number of people begging on the street is increasing like never before, the head of the delegation to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, Eloi Fillion, told NBC News in an email.

“People are selling their assets or burning furniture to keep warm,” said Fillion. “We hear from a lot of people, especially health workers, who haven’t been paid for a long time, who have been evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. The pressure on every family is increasing. ”

Last month the United Nations World Food Program warned that a total of 22.8 million people, more than half of the population, suffered from acute hunger while temperatures fell below zero.

At the same time, a severe drought hit more than 80 percent of the country and affected food production. according to The International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Almost 700,000 people had to leave their country last year due to drought, economic crisis and conflict.

Roughly 70 percent of the Afghan population lives in rural areas and 85 percent increases income from agriculture, which means climate shocks like drought are having an oversized impact on Afghans and the national economy, according to Shelley Thakral, director of communications for the country’s World Food Program .

UN authorities on Tuesday called for US $ 4.4 billion in aid from donors to the country in 2022 and called the funds a “major gap” to secure its future.

The UN said the appeal, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP, is the largest ever made for a single country.

“This is a loophole, an absolutely necessary solution that we are presenting to the international community today,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

“Without funding there will be no future, we have to do that, otherwise there will be outflows, there will be suffering.”

United Nations officials held a press conference from Geneva on Monday to launch the 2022 humanitarian response plans for Afghanistan and the region.Fabrice Coffrini / AFP – Getty Images

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) described the US $ 308 million as the “first” government contribution for 2022.

“President [Joe] Biden has made it clear that humanitarian aid will continue to flow directly to the Afghan people and that the United States remains the largest humanitarian aid donor in Afghanistan, ”said a statement accompanying the announcement of the new aid on Tuesday.

The new contribution will provide lifesaving aid to the most vulnerable, including women, girls, minorities and people with disabilities. In addition to health care, emergency food aid, water and sanitation, aid will also include “winterization programs” such as protective equipment, heaters, blankets and warm clothing, USAID said.

“The United States continues to urge the Taliban to provide unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarian workers, independent aid to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders,” it said.

The United States led an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11, 2001 attacks and overthrew the Taliban regime after protecting Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It withdrew almost 20 years later, leaving the country back to the Taliban.

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