By Stephanie Nebehay
(Reuters) -A total of 41 donor countries pledged more than $2.44 billion towards the United Nations $4.4 billion appeal for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, the world body said on Thursday, as international concerns grew over the Taliban denying girls a secondary education.
Belgium’s minister of development cooperation Meryame Kitir said: “Education empowers women and girls and that’s what the Taliban are afraid of.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the high-level conference urging donors to provide unconditional funding, saying that 9 million Afghans faced famine and that families were selling children and organs to survive.
The humanitarian situation has “deteriorated alarmingly” since the Taliban takeover in August and the economy has all but collapsed, he said.
“Some 95 percent of people do not have enough to eat. Nine million people are at risk of famine. UNICEF estimates that a million severely malnourished children are on the verge of death, without immediate action,” he said.
Guterres called for the reopening of schools for all students in Afghanistan without discrimination.
Britain, the European Union and the United States pledged funds, but along with Turkey and others voiced concerns about growing restrictions imposed by the hardline Islamist rulers.
“This humanitarian aid, like all aid from the United States, will go directly to NGOs and the United Nations. The Taliban will not control our humanitarian funding,” said U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, pledging $204 million.
Ahead of the drive, Britain pledged 286 million pounds ($374 million) for Afghanistan, where six of every 10 Afghans need aid, much of it food.
British minister of state Lord Ahmad said: “While today our focus has rightly been on critical humanitarian issues, many interventions today have also raised the increasing restrictions tragically placed on Afghan people but in particular on women and girls, on the media and indeed on civil society.”
U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, speaking from Doha after talks with the Taliban in Kabul this week, said: “I had the firm impression that the door for dialogue with the de facto authorities remains open, they want to find a constructive way to work with us.
“They don’t necessarily know how to work with the international community, including the complex question of girls’ education. I hope we can resolve this problem in the future.”
At Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul he had seen tiny malnourished children and newborns sharing ventilators. The level of human suffering left him speechless, Griffiths said.
The United Nations says funds under the appeal – three times the amount requested in 2021 – go directly to aid agencies and none are channelled through the de facto authorities.
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by William Maclean, Nick Macfie and Howard Goller)