Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the high‑level pledging event on Afghanistan, in New York today:
Thank you for joining us today in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. I thank the Governments of the United Kingdom, Germany and Qatar for hosting this pledging conference.
The massive humanitarian response in Afghanistan since August 2021 undoubtedly saved many lives over the winter. I thank many of you for your contributions to the full funding of last year’s humanitarian appeal.
However, despite our collective efforts, the already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated alarmingly over the past months. Some 95 per cent of people do not have enough to eat. Nine million people are at risk of famine. UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] estimates that a million severely malnourished children are on the verge of death, without immediate action.
And global food prices are skyrocketing, as a result of the war in Ukraine. This spells catastrophe for both Afghans struggling to feed their families, and for our aid operations. Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan. People are already selling their children and their body parts in order to feed their families.
Afghanistan’s economy has effectively collapsed. There is very little cash. More than 80 per cent of the population are in debt. Key workers in vital services including schools and hospitals have not been paid for months. Businesses cannot operate. International aid agencies can barely function; and local partners face even greater hurdles.
Livelihoods have evaporated and farmers cannot buy seeds or fertilizers. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that, unless we take action, 97 per cent of Afghans could be living below the poverty line by the middle of this year.
Humanitarian needs have tripled since last June. Yes, tripled. And they are growing, day by day and month by month. The international community must find ways to spare the Afghan people from the impact of the decision to halt development support to Afghanistan, and to freeze nearly $9 billion in Afghan assets overseas. It must make cash available so the Afghan economy can breathe, and the Afghan people can eat. Wealthy, powerful countries cannot ignore the consequences of their decisions on the most vulnerable.
The first step in any meaningful humanitarian response must be to halt the death spiral of the Afghan economy. Without that, even the best funded and most effective aid operation will not save the people of Afghanistan from an unimaginable future.
Since last August, humanitarian operations in Afghanistan have ramped up to cope with the increased needs. We stayed, we delivered and we are determined to keep delivering. Humanitarian aid is providing a fragile lifeline for millions of Afghans. Last year, humanitarian partners reached nearly 20 million people across all parts of the country with life-saving assistance including food, clean water, health care, protection, shelter, education and winterization.
So far this year, the World Food Programme (WFP) has reached more than 14 million people with food, nutrition and resilience support. In February alone, UNICEF reached close to 4 million people across the country with health services. UNICEF personnel screened nearly 1 million children for malnutrition in February alone.
UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], working in areas prioritized for the return of refugees and internally displaced people, has provided support to more than half a million people so far this year. And UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] reached more than a quarter of a million people between August and December  with reproductive health and protection services.
OCHA’s [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] funding mechanisms, including the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, were integral to getting funds quickly to where they were most needed.
Our funding appeal for Afghanistan this year is $4.4 billion — the world’s largest appeal for a single country. Together with our partners, we aim to reach 22 million people with food, water, health care, protection, shelter, education and other forms of life-saving aid. So far, the appeal is currently less than 13 per cent funded.
I appeal to you to provide unconditional and flexible funding as soon as possible. I also call for all those with influence to use it to ensure continued safe, rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian staff — women and men alike — to all parts of Afghanistan. I would like to express my admiration and gratitude to our hundreds of United Nations personnel and partners in Afghanistan, who are working hard to get aid to the most remote areas. The vast majority of these personnel are Afghan nationals, doing extraordinary work throughout the country.
We need women aid workers to get aid into the hands of Afghan women, and we continue our efforts to make sure women are a central part of humanitarian delivery. Support for the rights of Afghan women is support that lifts children out of hunger, and communities out of poverty.
I deeply regret that girls’ education above sixth grade remains suspended — a violation of the equal rights of girls that damages the entire country and leaves girls more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation. There is simply no justification for such discrimination. Educated girls become educated women who lift their families and communities into a better future.
The inclusion of women and girls in all sectors of society and the economy is essential to overcoming Afghanistan’s intersecting economic, humanitarian and human rights crises. I call on those with influence to use it to pressure the de facto authorities to fulfil their promise to reopen schools for all students, without discrimination or further delay.
And while we wait for girls to return to school, we cannot use their education as a bargaining tool. There is no rationale for withholding humanitarian aid based on this decision by the de facto authorities. The Afghan people cannot be doubly punished.
The United Nations stands together with the people of Afghanistan. I welcome the Security Council’s recent resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) with a focus on coordinating humanitarian aid and promoting human rights. We must now back this unity with pledges that will make an immediate and tangible difference. In the weeks and months ahead, I count on coordinated action to find creative solutions to set the Afghan economy back on its feet.