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U.N. seeks a record $4.4 billion for Afghans struggling under Taliban rule

People outside a destroyed building in Kabul
People inspect a damaged building in the aftermath of an attack in Kabul in August.
(Rahmat Gul / Associated Press)
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The United Nations’ aid-coordination office is launching its biggest appeal for funds for a single country, calling for $4.4 billion in donations to help impoverished Afghanistan at a time when much of the world’s attention is on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Ukraine is of vital importance, but Afghanistan, you know, calls to our soul for commitment and loyalty,” Martin Griffiths, who heads the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said before Thursday’s pledge drive. “In simple terms, the humanitarian program that we are appealing for is to save lives.”

Less than a year after Taliban fighters toppled Afghanistan’s internationally backed government, the country is buckling beneath a debilitating humanitarian crisis and an economy in free fall. Some 23 million people face acute food insecurity, the U.N. says.

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“The economy is too weak to sustain the lives of everyday people — women, men and children,” Griffiths told reporters Wednesday. “Given these terrible circumstances, we are asking donors today to fund the largest humanitarian appeal ever launched for a single country. We are calling for $4.4 billion to help the people of Afghanistan, at their worst hour of need, for this year.”

The appeal — backed by Britain, Germany and Qatar — is three times what the agency sought for Afghanistan a year earlier, a goal that was exceeded once donors saw the needs that would have to be met after the Taliban’s takeover.

“I have no doubt that we will not achieve the target of $4.4 billion tomorrow in pledges, but we will work on it,” Griffiths said.

Restless Kabul residents ponder what remains and what changes in the Afghan capital after more than a month of Taliban rule.

Since a leadership meeting in the southern city of Kandahar in early March, Taliban hard-liners have issued repressive edicts almost daily, harking back to their harsh rule of the late 1990s, further alienating a wary international community and infuriating many Afghans.

The edicts include a ban on women flying alone, a ban on women in parks on certain days and a requirement that male workers wear a beard and the traditional turban. International media broadcasts such as the BBC’s Persian and Pashto services have been banned, and foreign TV series have been taken off the air.

A surprising last-minute ban on girls returning to school beyond sixth grade shocked the international community and many Afghans. In schools across the country, girls returned to classrooms March 23 — the first day of the new Afghan school year — only to be sent home.

“Constraining rights based on gender is contrary to the values that we all hold very dear, and also is a constraint on the development and eventual prosperity of this extraordinary country,” Griffiths said. “We want to see those prohibitions, those constraints removed. ... I hope it will not mean that the pledges that we have from this conference are limited.”

Afghanistan’s bitter winter cold has international aid organizations scrambling to try to help millions of people who have neither food nor fuel.

Many donor countries are seeking to help beleaguered Afghans while largely shunning the Taliban, fearful that its repressive rule might return in full. But the U.N. aid agency suggested that political and economic engagement from abroad should return one day, too.

“It’s very important for the international community to engage with the Taliban over time on issues beyond the humanitarian,” said Griffiths. “The humanitarian assistance is no replacement for other forms of engagement.”

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