“Far greater humanitarian crisis” looms in Afghanistan — UNHCR

Afghan children ‘at greater risk than ever’, UNICEF warns

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GENEVA: As evacuations from Kabul wind down in coming days, “a larger crisis is just beginning” in Afghanistan and for its 39 million people, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Monday, appealing for support.

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, whose agency said last Friday that up to 500,000 Afghans could flee by year-end, reiterated a call for borders to remain open and for more countries to share “this humanitarian responsibility” with Iran and Pakistan which already host 2.2 million Afghans.

“The airlifts out of Kabul will end in a matter of days, and the tragedy that has unfolded will no longer be as visible. But it will still be a daily reality for millions of Afghans. We must not turn away. A far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning,” Grandi said in a statement. A senior official of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), after a visit to Afghanistan, said Sunday that the world “cannot abandon Afghan children now” when their needs are greater than ever before.

George Laryea-Adjei, Regional Director for UNICEF South Asia, said children have paid the heaviest price in recent weeks of increased conflict and insecurity in the country.

Not only have some been forced from their homes, and cut off from their schools and friends, they have also been deprived of basic healthcare that can protect them against polio, tetanus and other diseases.

Afghanistan fell to the Taliban after the insurgent group seized several of its provinces and sealed its victory with the takeover of Kabul, the country’s capital on August 15.

Also, a United Nations report says 5,770 Afghanistan children were killed or maimed between January 2019 and December 2020.

“Now, with a security crisis, skyrocketing food prices, a severe drought, the spread of coronavirus, and another harsh winter just around the corner, children are at greater risk than ever,” he warned.

UNICEF has predicted that if the current trend continues, one million under-fives in Afghanistan will face severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.

Laryea-Adjei said more than four million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school.

Around 300,000 youngsters have been forced to flee their homes, some of whom were in bed sleeping, “and too many of them have witnessed scenes that no child should ever see”, he said.

“Children and adolescents are struggling with anxieties and fears, in desperate need of mental health support,” he added.

With some humanitarian partners considering cutting aid to Afghanistan,

Laryea-Adjei voiced concern over having enough resources to keep health centres up and running, schools open, and services available to treat severely malnourished children.

UNICEF, which has been in Afghanistan for more than six decades, continues to maintain a field presence across the country, and is engaging with interlocutors to scale up response.

The agency is currently supporting mobile health and nutrition teams at camps for displaced people, and setting up child-friendly spaces, nutrition hubs and vaccination sites, while also pre-positioning additional lifesaving supplies and supporting thousands of students in community-based education classes.

However, Laryea-Adjei stressed that more resources are direly needed. UNICEF recently launched a US $ 192 million appeal to address the escalating humanitarian crisis, and urged donors to step up support.

“Young people and children have been telling us they are in desperate need of the most basic items and services – needs which, given support, the humanitarian community can easily respond to,” he said.

“The needs of the children of Afghanistan have never been greater. We cannot abandon them now.”

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