The United Nations drummed up more than 1.2 billion dollars (£870 million) in emergency pledges on Monday for helping 11 million Afghans facing an escalating humanitarian crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region.
It came as the United Nations human rights chief voiced concerns about the Taliban’s first steps in establishing power in the beleaguered and impoverished country.
At the first high-level conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a month ago, Western governments, major traditional donors and others announced pledges that went beyond the 606 million dollars (£437 million) the UN was seeking to cover costs through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from looming humanitarian disaster.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths announced at the close of the ministerial meeting in Geneva that more than 1.2 billion dollars in humanitarian and development aid had been pledged.
He said this included the 606 million dollars sought in a “flash appeal” but also a regional response to the Afghan crisis that UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi discussed after arriving in Kabul on a previously unannounced visit.
He wrote on Twitter that he would assess humanitarian needs and the situation of 3.5 million displaced Afghans, including more than 500,000 displaced this year alone.
Officials at the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, have expressed concerns that more Afghans could take refuge into neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, which both already have large numbers of Afghans who fled their country during the past decades of war.
Mr Griffiths urged donors to turn Monday’s pledges into cash contributions as fast as possible, saying “the funding will throw a lifeline to Afghans” who lack food, health care and protection.
He said the meeting showed solidarity with the Afghan people but added that “Afghanistan faces a long and hard road ahead” and this “is far from the end of the journey”.
It is feared Afghanistan could further plunge toward famine and economic collapse after the chaos of the past month, in which the Taliban ousted the government in a lightning sweep as US and NATO forces exited the 20-year war.
“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the opening of the conference.
“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them. And let us be clear, this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe.”
He said one in three Afghans did not know where their next meal would come from, the poverty rate was “spiralling” and basic public services were nearing collapse. A severe drought was jeopardising the forthcoming harvest, and hunger had been rising.
The UN’s World Food Programme says Afghans are growing increasingly short of cash to buy food, the majority of which — like wheat flour — is imported. Frozen foreign exchanges and a paralysed state budget have stripped people of the money they need just as food and fuel prices have risen.
As with many other UN-led donor conferences, some countries injected more funds, while others highlighted commitments already made. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced plans for Germany to pour 500 million euros (£426 million) into Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries, but specifics were not immediately provided. Denmark said it would give an extra 38 million dollars (£27 million) and Norway promised 11.5 million dollars (£8.3 million).
At the same time, officials suggested aid in the future could be affected by how the Taliban ruled.