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Afghanistan: Humanitarian Situation

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 15 December 2021

My noble Friend the Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, has made the following written ministerial statement:

Afghanistan is facing a serious and worsening humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates that 22.8 million people, over half the population, are now suffering “crisis” or “emergency” levels of acute malnutrition, over a third more than at this time last year. Afghanistan is now estimated to have more people suffering from “emergency” levels of acute malnutrition, 8.7 million, than any other country.

The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to address the situation, including through our presidency of the G7. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Minister of State have discussed the situation extensively with world leaders including in the margins of COP26. The Foreign Secretary represented the UK at a G20 leaders meeting on 12 October that agreed to step up emergency aid. Lord Ahmad visited New York in late October to speak to senior UN officials, and has been in regular contact since August, with the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, heads of UN agencies including the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs as well as other senior officials such as the head of the ICRC and the Aga Khan Development Network. In November, he also met with Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

We have used our engagement with Taliban to press them to ensure a suitable environment for aid delivery, as well as to respond to international concerns on terrorism, the protection of human rights, especially the rights of women, girls and members of minorities, and the departure of non-Afghan nationals and Afghans eligible for resettlement overseas. These were our top priorities during the visit to Kabul by the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghan Transition, Sir Simon Gass, on 5 October, as well as in telephone calls and subsequent meetings by UK officials with the Taliban in Doha.

The UN Secretary General launched a flash appeal for Afghanistan on 13 September. The event was attended by the then Foreign Secretary and by Lord Ahmad. But further efforts will be needed. The UN has requested nearly $4.5 billion for 2022, the largest humanitarian appeal on record, reflecting the magnitude of the humanitarian challenge ahead.

The UK was at the forefront of this, and in August, the Prime Minister said that the UK would double its assistance for Afghanistan to £286 million this financial year.

On 3 September, the Government announced the allocation of up to £30 million of this for Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries, of which £10 million has been disbursed directly to humanitarian agencies in the region.

On 31 October, the Prime Minister announced the allocation of £50 million in immediate support for vulnerable communities within Afghanistan. We have now disbursed £49 million of this, in addition to the disbursement of over £32 million for humanitarian activity inside Afghanistan between April and October. 1.

On 12 December, the Foreign Secretary announced the allocation of a further £75 million to provide life-saving food, and emergency health services as well as shelter, water and hygiene supplies. Through the £75 million and £50 million allocations, the UK will support over 3.4 million people, with emergency food, health, shelter, water and protection. We will work with aid agencies to prioritise those most at risk, including households headed by women and people with disabilities. The funding will be channelled through the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, the World Food Programme, the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund and International Rescue Committee.

In addition, the Government have today committed to matching donations from the British people to the Disasters Emergency Committee Afghanistan appeal, up to £10 million. This means that public donations will have greater impact and give life-saving support to more people in Afghanistan.

So far this financial year, we have disbursed over £81 million within Afghanistan and £10 million to support Afghan refugees in the region. A full breakdown appears in the annexes attached. All our humanitarian assistance is going to UN agencies or trusted and experienced international NGOs and not to the Taliban.

We are particularly concerned by the impact of the situation on women and girls. We are consulting women’s organisations, Afghan women leaders and implementing partners to understand how best to support their needs. In allocating UK funds, we are seeking to ensure that women, girls and other marginalised groups have equal, safe and dignified access to assistance and services.

The humanitarian crisis has been a central subject of all our conversations with the Taliban. We have pressed them to respect humanitarian principles and allow aid agencies to operate freely. The Taliban wrote to the UN’s emergency response co-ordinator on 10 September promising to respect humanitarian principles, including free access for aid workers.

We are monitoring the situation carefully. Our partners report that aid delivery channels are open and humanitarian access is reasonable. But aid workers also face challenges as a result of the liquidity shortage, which makes payments more difficult. We are working closely with multilateral organisations, banks and NGOs to address these.

The UK has also taken a leading role in international discussions on how to support essential basic services. We are encouraging the World Bank and its shareholders to use the $1.5 billion in the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund for this. We welcome the decision by the World Bank’s Board on 30 November to transfer $280 million to support the humanitarian response and basic health services via UN agencies. We are also working with G7 partners to encourage the World Bank to produce options to allocate the $1.2 billion remaining in the fund.

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