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Afghanistan is ‘not a hopeless crisis’, top UN aid official says

Just Earth News | @justearthnews | 24 May 2024, 06:44 am Print

Afghanistan is ‘not a hopeless crisis’, top UN aid official says Afghanistan

UNOCHA/Christophe Verhellen Photo Courtesy: A woman and her child walk through a camp for displaced people in Afghanistan (file).

The international community cannot abandon Afghanistan, a senior UN aid official said on Thursday, urging continued engagement and support for the population.

Afghanistan is “not a hopeless crisis,” Edem Wosornu of the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, told journalists in New York, following a recent visit to the country, Pakistan and war-wracked Sudan.

Ms. Wosornu was part of an all-woman delegation in Afghanistan, where the climate crisis has caused widespread water scarcity, generating new food, health, and nutrition needs. 

Overall, 23 million people rely on humanitarian assistance – five times more than in 2019, and over 15 million now face high levels of food insecurity.  Recent deadly floods in central and northern regions have added to the suffering.

Courageous women colleagues

Ms. Wosornu said restrictions imposed by the de facto Taliban authorities on Afghan women aid workers have added a layer of complexity to humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. Relatedly, some 1.4 million women and adolescent girls are still under an education ban.

“While delivering humanitarian assistance, our courageous Afghan female colleagues face many challenges and assume personal risks every day to and from work,” she said.

Meanwhile, humanitarian partners continue to negotiate with Taliban authorities on the issue. 

Let women work!

Ms. Wosornu also raised the clampdown in talks with various senior officials, including the Taliban’s economic and foreign ministers, during her four-day visit.

“It was a constant part of my messaging: Afghan women need to work, and it is essential,” she said.

Asked about the education ban, she said the de facto authorities repeated the message that they need time, to which she responded, “we don't have time because the numbers speak for themselves”.

“I was also very clear that the more we wait, the more millions of children will be affected and the more it will impact the society,” she said.

She also reported that some members of the “de facto authority community…were turning a blind eye to some of the activities that we were doing”.  In some provinces, the UN humanitarians were allowed to move freely.

“So, there is hope to continue pushing. And the message, as I said before, at all levels was you need to lift these restrictions because we need to do our job in the education sector and the health sector.”

Remain engaged

Ms. Wosornu reported that the Afghan people need three things from the international community: continued humanitarian assistance; sustainable solutions, including livelihood and agricultural support, and, finally, to be heard.

Noting that a $3.6 billion appeal for the country is just 16 per cent funded, she urged the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan. 

“This is not a hopeless crisis,” she said. “At least I was encouraged to see that the people of Afghanistan continue to fight and push for what they believe in.  The world cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan at this point.”

Saving lives in Pakistan

Like Afghanistan, Pakistan has also been hit by recent flooding caused by heavy rains. Ms. Worsonu saw firsthand the impact on agricultural families in Peshawar who have lost their crops and whose children cannot get to school.

She visited the Government’s emergency centre in the capital, Islamabad, “where they are trying their best to ensure that predictability is key, where they can prevent massive loss of life from the early warning systems”, adding that the authorities have asked for UN support.

‘Five-alarm fire’ in Sudan

She also used the briefing to keep focus on the crisis in Sudan, which she called a “five-alarm fire of the worst kind”. 

Some 18 million people are facing acute hunger after two years of war between the national army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Five million “are a step away from starvation” and the risk of famine is real. Rampant human rights violations have been committed.

The fighting has forced nine million people to flee to safety, whether elsewhere in Sudan or across the border to countries such as South Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.

The UN has repeatedly been pushing for safe humanitarian access and aid delivery, whether across frontlines or borders.

Ms. Wosornu was asked if she participated in any crossline negotiations, and if progress on this issue can be achieved.

She said the UN met with the RSF’s so-called civilian arm in Nairobi and with the Government of Sudan in Port Sudan. She expressed hope that the negotiations will be successful, “but what I can tell you is every day we delay in that ability to get across to people, that is when we will lose lives.”