Save the Children is urging the Australian Government to commit at least $100m per year in life-saving aid at the pledging conference for Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban took power last August, poverty has skyrocketed and 14 million children face life-threatening levels of hunger. Parents are taking drastic measures to survive, such as withdrawing their children from school and sending them to work, or selling their children and arranging marriages for their young daughters. The Taliban’s reversal of the decision to allow girls to return to school last week places even more adolescent girls at risk of early marriage and denies them their right to education.
Save the Children’s doctors are seeing outbreaks of deadly diseases, such as measles, because children cannot access adequate healthcare and routine vaccinations. In 2022 alone, there have been more than 18,000 measles cases and 142 children have died of measles in Afghanistan.
Many mothers are also forced to give birth at home because they cannot afford transport or the medical fees, placing both the mother and baby at great risk.
Gulalai*, 25, has six children and lives in a remote village in Jawzjan province, northern Afghanistan. When Save the Children met Gulalai, she had just given birth to her one-day-old daughter Malika* at home because the family could not afford to travel to the nearest hospital.
Gulalai fell ill after the birth and Malika cries with hunger. Her one-year-old son, Ninangyali* is also unwell and suffers from severe acute malnutrition. Gulalai’s mother, Sharifa*, said the family’s situation is dire:
“Our situation is very bad here. The men in the family have no jobs. They don’t have any income…[and] we’ve already spent all our savings. Now we have nothing and there are no jobs. We have nothing to feed the children.
“Our biggest worry is that we are sick. My daughter was suffering last night – she needs medicine but we can’t afford it. Now it’s nearly lunchtime, and we don’t have any food to give the children today. These things worry us. We are clearly in trouble. We need help.
“Last year we had to leave our home because of the war and we were living in a camp in the desert for about 20 days. That’s when we noticed Ninangyali was getting thin. He was weak and had a fever. He wasn’t eating anything. We thought we were going to lose him. We had no hope that he was going to live.”
Fortunately, Ninangyali received treatment at Save the Children’s mobile health clinic. The doctor said his condition was so bad when she first saw him that he almost certainly would have died if Save the Children hadn’t treated him.
The aid organisation is calling on world leaders at tomorrow’s virtual pledging conference to meet the US$4.4 billion target needed to alleviate Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis – only about 13% of the target has been funded so far.
Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Chris Nyamandi, said:
“Donors must step up to generously fund the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022 or children will continue to die. The reality is as simple and sobering as that.
“In the seven months since the takeover, our teams have never seen anything like the devastation and desperation we are currently witnessing. The economy has collapsed leaving millions of children completely reliant on humanitarian aid. But without enough funding for humanitarian services, children will continue to lose their lives to preventable diseases and malnutrition.
“Pledges made at tomorrow’s conference will set the course for Afghanistan’s future. Tomorrow the international community must meet its obligations to Afghanistan, or we’ll see Afghan children failed again, forgotten and left to fend for themselves. This includes maintaining their support for education – despite the Taliban’s reversal. Withholding assistance for education will only serve to undermine even more girls’ and boys’ access to learning.
“We also want to remind the world that while humanitarian funds will help keep children and their families alive, humanitarian agencies cannot replace a functioning economy. If international governments do not move urgently to unlock financial assets and address the liquidity crisis, more and more Afghan families will sink further into poverty and debt. We will do everything we can, but at the rate the need is increasing, we cannot reach all the children and adults who desperately need support to survive.”
As the UN Pledging Conference starts virtually, co-hosted by the UN, UK, Germany and Qatar, Save the Children urges the international community to fully fund the Humanitarian Response Plan – prioritising key areas for children including education and protection services – but also to release frozen assets into Afghanistan’s economy and work to stabilise key pillars of the financial system.