The Taliban need more than US$ 4 billion to save Afghans from starvation

At least 24 million out of a population of 36 million are in critical conditions, while very little aid is arriving. The UN and international agencies are calling for the easing of sanctions. Outbreaks of dysentery, measles, dengue fever, malaria and COVID-19 have been reported. Most women medical staff have fled following the Taliban’s seizure of power.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – More than US$ 4 billion are needed to meet the needs of an increasingly poor and hungry Afghan population, hit by an unprecedented health crisis, this according to the humanitarian agencies still present in the country.

At least 24 million people out of a total population of 36 million are in critical conditions and in urgent need of aid, which is arriving in a trickle.

United Nations officials are ensuring that some humanitarian assistance continues, regardless of the country’s political situation. The Taliban are currently in power.

The UN Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, has appealed for aid, but also stressed the need to respect human rights and freedoms.

In response, the Taliban-controlled Afghan Ministry of Economy said that it has prepared a scheme for the transparent distribution of aid to people in need and that it welcomes the support of the United Nations and international agencies.

However, the situation on the ground is becoming increasingly difficult, in particular in health.

According to experts, the local health care system is close to collapse due to the lack of resources and greater needs, such as growing hunger and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a long piece, the New York Times reports that hospitals and clinics are barely hanging on amid chronic shortages of funding and a “vast surge of malnutrition and disease”.

According to some estimates, up to 90 per cent of hospitals and clinics could close within the next few months, denying Afghans any hope for medical care.

Like other hospitals in the country, Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital has to cope with famished children arriving day and night by car, taxi, ambulance or other means.

Acute malnutrition is just the latest in a cascade of maladies crashing on the country’s fragile health system.

António Guterres, who last month said that Afghanistan was “hanging by a thread”, called for the suspension of sanctions that hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“For 20 years, we kept Afghanistan on a transfusion,” said Filipe Ribeiro, country representative for Médecins sans Frontières in Kabul. “Overnight, we removed the drip. Now we have to find a way to put it back.”

UN estimates state that three quarters of the Afghan population live in acute poverty with 4.7 million people at risk of severe malnutrition this year. More than US$ billion are required to meet immediate needs.

For Save the Children, a UK-based child advocacy group, the number of critically malnourished children visiting its clinics in the country has doubled since the Taliban took over in August. In December alone, at least 40 children died on their way to hospital.

The World Health Organisation reports major outbreaks of dysentery, measles, dengue fever, malaria and COVID-19, which threaten to overwhelm already crowded hospitals.

“When I try to talk to people about COVID-19, they say we have no food, no water, no electricity — why should we care about this virus?” said Dr Tariq Ahmad Akbari, medical director of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital.

Seven of the hospital’s eight female doctors fled after the Taliban takeover in August, part of a hollowing out that reduced the staff from 350 to 190 the past five months.

Four of the five microbiologists quit. And only five of the country’s 34 COVID-19 centres are still operating.