Afghanistan is at risk of “imminent hunger” with winter approaching and services disrupted by the return to power of the Taliban, a UN official warned in an interview with AFP.
Natalia Kanem, director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said via video that the situation in the country is dire.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say” that at least one-third of Afghanistan’s population of around 33mn is affected by “imminent hunger”, she warned.
Harsh winters, disrupting the ability to transport supplies to isolated areas of the mountainous country, plus the coronavirus pandemic will aggravate an already complicated situation, Kanem added.
“There is a lot of anxiety over how we’re going to deliver health care, where the next meal is going to come from,” she told AFP from the UNFPA headquarters in New York.
The doctor from Panama warned that women and girls would bear the worst of it.
“It is urgent, for women and girls in particular who were already suffering. This is one of the countries with the highest death during childbirth and pregnancy rates,” she said. “We cannot underscore enough that even during a transitional period, women and girls have human rights and these are to be respected.”
Kanem repeated calls made by the international community to the Taliban, who swept to power last month as the United States withdrew its last troops, ending Washington’s 20-year war there.
“The women of Afghanistan have made clear over years that they want their education, they want their health care, and that they’re also ready, willing and able to design programs and to be able to lead in their communities,” she said.
Taliban leaders have tried to portray the group as more moderate than when it last ran Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
Then, women were banned from school or work and only allowed to leave home with a male chaperone.
They have promised to change, saying they will respect women’s rights within the framework of Islamic sharia law, but many remain sceptical.
However, not a single woman was appointed to the provisional government and the Islamists seem to be incrementally stripping away Afghans’ freedoms.
Kanem notes that in a country ravaged by decades of conflict, many women, particularly in areas most affected by violence, are the sole breadwinners.
“We’re all anxiously hoping that there will be regularity and ability of delivery of goods” to people in small communities where many of the UNPFA’s staff are women, she said. “We have said that we want to be able to maintain a functioning health system.”
“(It’s) pretty challenging right now with the airport having been closed, with certain professionals who have left the country,” Kanem added.
She warned that if the healthcare system breaks down, that’s going to spell “complete disaster”, but added that for the most part the agency’s family health centres have remained open.
The UN on Wednesday released $45mn in emergency aid to support Afghanistan’s healthcare system.
Malala pleads with world to protect Afghan girls
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan as she left school in 2012, pleaded with the world on Friday not to compromise on the protection of Afghan women’s rights following the Taliban takeover.
As countries and organisations take the first steps to engage with the Islamist group, the 24-year-old Yousafzai said she is worried that the Taliban would act as they did when they were in power 20 years ago despite a sharp increase in work and education opportunities for Afghan women since then.
“We cannot make compromises on the protection of women’s rights and the protection of human dignity,” she told a panel on girls’ education in Afghanistan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“Now is the time that we stick to that commitment and ensure that the rights of Afghan women are protected. And one of those important rights is the right to education,” said Yousafzai, who joined the panel by video. – Reuters
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