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Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis: UK Response

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Foreign Secretary if she will make a statement on the UK response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains deeply concerning. In January, the UN requested nearly $4.5 billion for 2022—the largest humanitarian appeal on record. The UN has announced that it will be holding an international pledging conference on 31 March, and the UK is strongly supportive of that conference. On 28 January 2022, the Foreign Secretary announced £97 million of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan from the UK. This latest allocation of vital support delivers the Prime Minister’s promise to double the aid to Afghanistan, to £286 million. By the end of January 2022, we had disbursed over £176 million in aid, and will disburse the remainder by the end of this financial year—that is, the end of March.

UK aid allocated since October is supporting over 60 hospitals, providing health services for more than 300 million people, ensuring that 4.47 million people get emergency food assistance through the World Food Programme, and will provide 6.1 million people with emergency health, water, protection, shelter and food, through the UN Afghanistan humanitarian fund.

In addition to providing immediate assistance, we are playing a leading role in international efforts to address multiple causes of the crisis. The provision of basic services such as health and education remains critical. We continue to explore solutions for service delivery such as payment of frontline delivery workers. We are working closely and monitoring Afghanistan’s economy, specifically its lack of liquidity, and we are working with partners to seek solutions. The UK also played a key role pressing for a resolution establishing a humanitarian exemption under the UN Afghanistan sanctions regime. On 27 January, the UK Government laid legislation to implement UN security Council resolution 2615. That will save lives and reduce the impediments faced by humanitarian agencies.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the Minister for her response.

The stark reality is that Britain can and must do more to rise to this horrific challenge. The inescapable facts are that the Taliban won and we lost, but we had previously promised that the military withdrawal would not be followed by economic and political withdrawal. Indeed, in 2010, when we announced the end of the combat role for British troops, we doubled aid and development spending from the UK as we had promised.

Although the £286 million pledged recently is extremely welcome, it is still not clear over what period it is all being spent and whether it is new and additional funding. It is, however, clear that it is not enough. The tremendous response to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal for Afghanistan in December shows too that the British people do not think it is enough, as once again ordinary citizens across Britain have responded magnificently.

The appalling reports from brave journalists such as Christina Lamb cannot be read without tears of anguish at the plight of our fellow human beings, who are selling their daughters into early marriage and parting with body organs to provide food for their families. This is not science fiction; these are facts, attested to by British journalists and charities working on the ground while the World Food Programme is trying desperately to feed 20 million starving people.

Some 90% of the people in Afghanistan do not have enough to eat. Five million are living in camps. Four million are just over the border in Iran, and they will not stay there; they will be heading for Europe and for Britain before long. UN professionals have made clear that $4.4 billion is required, and, typically, fair burden-sharing would mean that the UK would agree to provide about 10% of that. Why is the UK not hosting this important and welcome pledging conference in March?

Before the Prime Minister decided to vaporise the Department for International Development, there were dedicated officials, steeped in the practicalities and respected across the world, who were able to bring together the necessary technical skills, connections and experience to lead the international community to a better and more responsible place. As Britain’s International Development Secretary, I spent half my time urging, pleading and cajoling my counterparts in the rich world to step up to the plate. Britain led, and the international community followed. We need the same oomph, the same vigour from Britain today to make this happen. It is not just an appeal to our humanity; it is firmly and completely in our own national interest.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the generosity of the British people in responding to this very serious humanitarian crisis. It is a deeply tragic situation. However, the UK Government have also responded, and have shown leadership across the world. The £286 million that we have promised will be spent by the end of this financial year. It has been spent continually over this period, and will be spent by 31 March. That is the date on which the United Nations will host its new donor conference, and the UK is absolutely supportive of that initiative. It is vital that all countries come together through the UN to step up to the mark.

It is also thanks to UK leadership that the United Nations Security Council backed the resolution that we had suggested to enable the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid, while preserving sanctions against the leading Taliban figures. That means that the aid can continue to flow, and will not be held back because of those sanctions. As I said last month, we are also working to encourage the World Bank, as a matter of urgency, to repurpose the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, which would unlock a further $1.5 billion. Indeed, I had discussions with my officials about that just this morning.[Official Report, 21 February 2022, Vol. 709, c. 1MC.]

Let me start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for securing a vital urgent question.

This is not the first time that I have risen to my feet to speak about the humanitarian disaster faced by the people of Afghanistan; nor do I believe that it will be the last. The Opposition have warned continually and forcefully of the catastrophe that is unfolding before our very eyes. We warned that the country was heading towards a humanitarian cliff edge. We warned that tens of millions of Afghans faced imminent starvation, including millions of children. We warned that the situation would ultimately deteriorate as the country heads into a freezing winter. The response from the Government has been sorely, sorely lacking.

Quite simply, the international community has turned its back on ordinary Afghan people in their time of greatest need. Rather than a stepping up to the plate on the international stage, we have seen a complete withdrawal. It is a scandal that so far all the Government have offered is finally to send the money that it promised, by March. This was money pledged at the beginning of the disaster; things are now much worse. It is no good the Government saying that they have doubled aid when they halved it the previous year. The UK’s financial support for Afghanistan is at the same level as it was in 2019, when there was no impending catastrophe on this scale. Worse still, the Government have so far made no commitment to putting forward any of the additional $4.4 billion asked for by the UN.

This catastrophe will continue to get worse without a co-ordinated international response. It is a moral imperative that we act swiftly to help Afghanistan at its time of greatest need. We know the money can reach the people in need if directed through the United Nations and other partners, so I ask the Minister the following. What communications has she had with her European counterparts on hosting the global pledging conference suggested by me, our former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill)? What representations has she made to free up the $1.2 billion sitting in the World Bank that could be used to pay the wages of Afghan healthcare workers and teachers? Will she commit here today to donate the additional funds to the UN appeal for which the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield called? If so, how much?

The appalling scenes in Afghanistan should not divide the opinion of the House. I plead with the Government to do the right and moral thing and urgently step up their response to this unfolding tragedy.

It is extremely important, when we talk about such a tragic situation, that we get the facts right about what the UK Government are doing on behalf of the British people. We have announced and already spent more than £176 million of aid, which is supporting more than 60 hospitals, providing health services to more than 300,000 people, ensuring that more than 4 million people are getting emergency food assistance and providing 6.1 million people with emergency health, water and protection. That is what the UK is already doing, and the money is going out week by week, month by month. As promised, by the end of this financial year, at the end of March, our aid will have reached £286 million.

We also announced £97 million in January. As I said last time I was at the Dispatch Box on this subject, it is incredibly important that we work with partners across the world and support the UN, which has announced the largest ever appeal. That is why we are working with it and supporting its donor-led conference.

We are also working to unlock the money at the World Bank. It is a complex issue that involves bringing different people together, but we are leading on that. We have also led on unlocking the money that is getting to the people who need it, because of the exemption we helped to introduce on sanctions.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on dragging the focus of this House away from the playground and back to the real and terrible world.

I am wearing the emblem of the genocide in Srebrenica. What we are witnessing in Afghanistan is virtually genocide by starvation. We cannot, in a civilised world, allow this to continue. Will my hon. Friend please work with the Ministry of Defence to see how we can practically provide not simply hard cash but food, tents, clothes and the things people really need, not in March but now?

That is an extremely important point, because we are working, as much as we can, to get aid through to the people who need it. We are working through a lot of different organisations, including the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, the World Food Programme, the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is also funding local partners.

My colleague Lord Ahmad, the Minister with responsibility for south Asia and the UN, has also met senior Afghan women in this country to help shape the policy and the programme by making sure we hear their feedback. Our policies and programmes are also being informed by Afghan leaders, including Shukria Barakzai, Fawzia Koofi and Hasina Safi. That includes supporting local agencies on the ground, especially those focused on women and girls. Lord Ahmad met them very recently, too.

We hear an awful lot in this place about global Britain—where is global Britain now? The harsh Afghan winter has already set in and the United Nations estimates that only 5% of Afghans have enough good food to eat each day. That was made clear as far back as September and the situation has clearly worsened since. The UK Government have absolutely no excuse if they claim to have been caught by surprise as this famine has developed.

Military operations in Afghanistan cost the UK public purse £28 billion or thereby, and the shambolic handling of the UK and international coalition’s withdrawal from the country has accelerated the current humanitarian disaster. As a former military stakeholder, the UK has a moral obligation to support the wellbeing of Afghan people, so why can the FCDO not find a fraction of that £28 billion to support the UN’s emergency famine appeal? So far, the UK Government have not given anything to the appeal. Support does not cut it: it is money that works. The UK has committed a mere £286 million and only given £176 million of that to date. What is the Minister doing to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid to those most in need on the ground in Afghanistan?

As I have already said, the funding the UK is putting in day by day and week by week already supports 4.47 million people in Afghanistan. We recognise that the UN has launched its largest-ever appeal and we are working to unlock the money at the World Bank. The date of that conference has been announced as 31 March and we will be supporting it; we are extremely supportive as it is. However, we are also doing a huge amount of international work, including encouraging Muslim majority countries to play a full role in seeking to influence the Taliban. For example, the Foreign Secretary visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Indonesia in October and November and met the gulf Foreign Ministers again in December to discuss that and other issues. The Prime Minister’s special representative, Nigel Casey, met the Taliban representatives in Oslo last month. We are pushing on all sides, first, to improve the aid that comes in, secondly, to get the aid to the people and, thirdly, to encourage other neighbours and countries to step up to the mark.

Let us cut to the chase: no Minister has met the Taliban. I met them in November and they told me to my face that they could not cope. That is what is leading to extreme poverty, mass malnutrition and a million children close to starvation. It is so simple for us to blame the Taliban, but we chose to hand responsibility to this insurgency, knowing that the economy would then collapse. Now we compound the tragedy by freezing international funds. Does the Minister not agree that if we are to break the impasse and help the Afghan people whom we abandoned, it is now time to recognise the Taliban so that we can get that urgent funding into the country and save lives? That would be an example of leadership and an example of global Britain.

Our officials have very pragmatic engagement with the Taliban at official levels, especially pressing on human rights and humanitarian issues. For example, in October the PM’s special representative for the Afghan transition, Sir Simon Gass, and the chargé d’affaires for the UK mission to Afghanistan, Dr Martin Longden, travelled to Afghanistan, where they held talks with the Taliban. The Prime Minister’s special representative met Taliban representatives late last month and officials have continued to discuss the humanitarian situation. In terms of getting funding to where it is needed to ensure that the humanitarian aid can get there, it was the UK that worked with leadership to get the resolution at the UN giving a humanitarian exemption, meaning that funds can flow for humanitarian need despite the sanctions

It is a hallmark of this Government to say, “Everything’s all right; we’re doing everything we need to do.”, but clearly voices from across the House are saying, “Everything is not all right, and you had at least four months when you were warned about this humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people in Afghanistan.” Will the Minister commit to come back to this House with a proper and comprehensive statement on the day we return after recess, to ensure that we are satisfied that there is a comprehensive international and domestic response?

As I have said already, the UK funding is providing food aid to 4.47 million people. It is an enormously tragic situation. The UK has stepped up for over 4 million people, and we need others also to step up more. We know that there is going to be a long-term need as well, which is why we are supporting the UN conference that will happen at the end of March. We are working with all the relevant partners—as I have said, the World Food Programme and the many other UN organisations—to make sure that the funding we are putting in is getting to where it is needed. That is supporting 4.4 million people at the moment, and as I have said, this will go up to 6.6 million when we include the support we are also putting in for health, water, protection, shelter and so on.[Official Report, 21 February 2022, Vol. 709, c. 1MC.]

Last week, the US Treasury Department issued guidance to international banks on sanctions exemptions on humanitarian grounds enabling international banks to transfer money to charities and aid agencies—for example, to pay the wages of teachers or health workers. As a practical step that the Government could take immediately, would the Minister instruct the Treasury, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Bank of England or whichever organisation holds responsibility to issue such guidance to British banks this week?

I will certainly take up my right hon. Friend’s suggestion with the Minister responsible for south and central Asia.

Let me cut to the chase with the Minister and say that she knows what we must do if we are going to deliver the food to stop this crisis for children. The pictures of children begging, obviously with no food, really gets to all of us, does it not? I have to say to the Minister that she is aware—surely she is aware—that if we are going to get in this food and this help, we have to work with the major international charities. A member of my family is in a very senior role in one of those big agencies. Will she promise me that she will talk to the leaders of those key organisations—she knows who they are—and say, “Are you getting enough resources to deliver on the ground?”? Will she promise to do that today?

The funding we are giving is being channelled through many different organisations, including UN organisations such as the World Food Programme, and through the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs into local organisations too. My colleague, the noble Lord responsible for this area, meets them regularly to discuss any blockages in getting the food there. It is a really challenging and heartbreaking situation—everybody understands that—and my colleague is meeting them regularly. That is the way this is currently being funded to make sure that the funding is going not through Government or Taliban organisations, but through those humanitarian aid organisations.[Official Report, 21 February 2022, Vol. 709, c. 2MC.]

The Minister will know that true political influence comes from having a physical presence. Could she please confirm what the FCDO physically has on the ground in Kabul, and whether that footprint will increase?

I am afraid I am not at liberty to discuss individual situations, especially those of local charities, for example, because I have been told that to do so could put them at risk.

The former Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart said yesterday:

“It’s unbelievable that an international coalition which could find 130BN dollars a year for Afghanistan when fighting there, cannot find 5 per cent of that amount to prevent millions of Afghans from starving. The West abandoned Afghanistan to the Taliban in August. Now it is abandoning Afghans to starvation. Betrayal follows betrayal.”

Can I ask the Minister what the UK Government have done in real terms, working with the international community, to really help prevent the starvation of the Afghan people?

As I have already said from this Dispatch Box, the aid we have allocated since October is supporting 4.47 million people to get emergency food assistance through the World Food Programme, as well as supporting 60 hospitals and 300,000 people with health services. We are working with various UN agencies, including the World Food Programme, to make sure that that is delivered, and we are fully supportive of the UN donor conference, which it has announced will be held on 31 March.

Alongside the humanitarian issues are many concerns about women. Four women—Parwana Khil, Tamana Paryani, Mursal Ayar and Zahra Mohammadi—have just been seized off the street and imprisoned, and everybody is incredibly worried about them. Does the Minister have any information on their whereabouts, because we are concerned about their safety?

I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I would be more than happy to follow up with an answer following this urgent question. Since Operation Pitting ended, we have also supported more than 3,000 people to leave Afghanistan or to move from third countries to the UK, so we are continuing to help relocate people.

The Minister mentions Operation Pitting. An Afghan gentleman came to my surgery in agony: his family have not left the house or seen daylight for months and he is worried about what is happening to his country. To add insult to injury, the leave to enter for the 15,000 Afghans who are now here expires at the end of this month. When we add all that strife together, their mental health is suffering. Will the Minister guarantee now at the Dispatch Box that by the end of this month all those Afghans who came here will be given leave to remain?

As the hon. Lady knows, the Home Office Minister—the Minister for Afghan Resettlement—leads on that subject, so I suggest we raise that with her. Significant cross-Government effort has been under way to ensure that the thousands of Afghans who have been evacuated to the UK receive the support they need to rebuild their lives.

What is happening in Afghanistan today is a catastrophe of epic proportions. For those who committed so much to that country, particularly the families of the servicemen and women who lost their lives, the Government’s current trajectory makes their lives harder, not easier, in dealing with that sacrifice. I urge the Government to think again. If we can commit £30 billion to a military project such as Afghanistan, it is obscene that we cannot commit more than 5% in foreign aid to rebuilding that country and saving as many lives as we can, having invested so much over so long.

My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 150,000 people who served in Afghanistan and, in particular, to the 457 who so sadly lost their lives and the many others who had life-changing injuries. For 20 years they denied terrorists a safe haven from which to launch attacks against the UK, and enabled development that improved the lives of many millions of people in Afghanistan. I remind him that the UK funding going in at the moment is helping to feed more than 4 million people. It is a very tragic situation but that funding is going through, and we are working with others and pressing to unlock the funds at the World Bank and the support of the donor conference.

Do the Government recognise that this catastrophe will continue to unfold before our eyes unless the Afghan banking system starts working again? In particular, do the Government support the release of frozen Afghan central bank reserves to restore inter-bank lending? On donor funds, whether they are held by the World Bank or being asked for from donors around the world, do the Minister and all those involved understand that we need speed? It may be complex, but people starving or having to sell their children are not interested in complexity; they want help now. A meeting later this month or next month is, frankly, too late.

As I have said, we are closely monitoring the economic situation, especially the lack of liquidity, and we are working urgently with partners to seek solutions, including calling for that money to be released from the World Bank.

Afghanistan has been dependent on foreign aid and FDI since time immemorial. Indeed, my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who is no longer in her place, referred to the former Member for Penrith and The Border and the need for at least 5% funding immediately. Western Governments got Afghanistan wrong last August, 10 years ago and 20 years ago. As we look to the future, what will UK-Afghanistan relations and strategy look like?

It is an enormously complicated situation. We are engaging with the Taliban at official level, especially on the humanitarian situation and human rights. We are currently focused on ensuring that our committed funds are getting to the 4 million-plus people we are supporting with food aid and other aid, encouraging the return of girls to education when schools go back in March, and doing everything we can to encourage the international community to step forward and address the current situation, which is indeed very serious.

Further to the point made by my friend the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), I suspect that the Minister saw the comments from General Lord Richards, who called on the west to come to terms with the Taliban being the Government in Afghanistan. None of us wanted that outcome, but innocent people are starving and freezing to death and it feels like we are sleepwalking into a catastrophe. Will she look again at what more can be done to unfreeze state assets, lift sanctions and restart the Afghan economy, in order to give people in Afghanistan some sense of hope for the future?

On sanctions, as I said, we have already made progress as the humanitarian exemption that came into UK law on 27 January has helped to unlock funding. On whether we should recognise the Taliban, we have a long-standing policy of recognising states, not Governments, and the Prime Minister has been clear that if the Taliban want international acceptance, they must abide by international norms. However, that does not stop us from engaging at official level, especially on humanitarian issues.

The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is one of the most generous such schemes in this country’s history. However, while some local authorities are providing homes—they are ready and available—there appear to be delays from the Home Office in processing and matching them to Afghans resettled through the scheme. Will the Minister please ask the Minister for Afghan Resettlement to write to me with an update specifically on the properties offered by Blaby District Council?

Not only does famine kill, but starvation and malnutrition will scar the bodies and brains of a generation and beyond. Every day that we delay means that recovery will be more expensive than acting now. We need cash in the system and the Afghan economy. If the World Bank could release reconstruction funds today, how quickly could that cash be flowing through the Afghan economy?

I completely agree that it is important to keep money flowing through the Afghan economy and, as I said, we are working with the World Bank on that. On 25 January—a couple of weeks ago—the UK also supported the Asian Development Bank with a £405 million support package for the Afghan people, funded from the Asian Development Fund.[Official Report, 21 February 2022, Vol. 709, c. 2MC.]

Obviously, when the evacuation took place, and immediately afterwards, Afghanistan was the centre of attention. Naturally, people have forgotten about it, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on bringing it to the attention of the House once again. At the start of the evacuation, 656 families in my constituency had relatives in Afghanistan who were trying to get out. This weekend, I discovered some more, most of whom are still trapped there and are UK citizens. May I suggest to the Minister that we should have a facility, via the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, whereby MPs can confidentially feed in details about the people who are still trapped there, so that assistance can be provided? Clearly they are under threat from the Taliban and in peril. We need to retain confidentiality but assist them to leave if that is what they want to do.

As I said, this is a hugely concerning situation. On helping people to leave the country, the UK has been working to allow Afghan nationals to cross borders into neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We have supported more than 3,400 people to leave Afghanistan since the end of Operation Pitting. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is managed by the Home Office, so my hon. Friend should raise that issue with the Home Office. On the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme, which is for people who helped the Government, people can still apply to that. I understand that the Minister for the Armed Forces is due to be holding a resettlement surgery shortly, so perhaps my hon. Friend could raise those issues with him directly. If not, he should certainly write to me and I will pass the details on.

The Minister will recognise that from all parts of the House there is a desire for more action, not simply from the world community, but from this Government of ours. It is good to know that 4 million people are being helped, but there are probably 37 million people facing starvation at this very moment, and they will continue to face starvation unless we see the reconstruction of the Afghan economy. Where is the World Bank up to on that? What are the Government doing to bring pressure to bear to say, “We need action now, not in months’ time”?

I completely agree. This is a complex situation, but we are pressing the World Bank. We are also working with it and the UN to find solutions to allow international non-governmental organisations to access currency in Afghanistan, which is another issue.

Successive Governments have committed United Kingdom forces to Afghanistan and we have spent billions of pounds. We now have a situation where millions of people are starving, and we must cut through the bureaucracy and get food to people, because otherwise they will starve to death. We sit here in a country where we can feed ourselves and we do our very best to feed our whole population. For goodness’ sake, Minister, please, we have to get more food into Afghanistan and get it there now.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is an incredibly concerning humanitarian situation. We have pledged our funding, and it is going through and getting through to those we are supporting, but it is important that the rest of the world also steps up. I understand that some countries— the European Union and United States—have also made announcements such as we have since the UN launched its appeal. We are absolutely supporting that UN appeal, because the momentum needs to continue. This is a very urgent situation.

Many of my constituents have close family members in Afghanistan who worked bravely to further our shared aims in the country, including by working alongside NATO forces, in the media and on supporting women’s rights. So many who could not get out are at ongoing serious risk from the Taliban and are still in hiding. Constituents have told me recently about how family members are being hunted by the Taliban, who are going door to door. The humanitarian crisis is making things so much worse, with food prices rising and the impossibility of access to the help that is needed. With 31 March two months away, will the Minister work with colleagues across Government and across this House, and use our soft power to bring the international community together more quickly and with greater urgency, not only to tackle the humanitarian crisis but to accelerate the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans still at risk?

The Ministry of Defence’s ARAP scheme is still open and people can still apply, and the hon. Lady should raise individual cases with the Armed Forces Minister. We have supported some 3,400 people to leave Afghanistan since the end of Operation Pitting, including over 700 British nationals and eligible dependants. We will continue to work to ensure that those who are eligible can try to depart the country safety, and that includes holding the Taliban to account for their commitment on safe passage.

Ex-pats and diaspora community groups, such as Glasgow Afghan United in Glasgow North, play a hugely important role in sending remittances back and keeping channels of communication going with the humanitarian situation on the ground, and indeed trying to support friends and family members who want to leave Afghanistan. What support are the Government providing to those kinds of groups to ensure that support continues to be provided, that channels of communication are kept open and that voices on the ground are heard?

As I mentioned earlier, this is an extremely serious situation. My colleague Lord Ahmad regularly meets the various aid organisations that we work with, and he has been meeting Afghan leaders, including many women Afghan leaders, to ensure that they are feeding into our projects. Just last week, he met a group of very senior Afghan women who have come to this country, including businesswomen and judges, to feed in their views and what they are hearing from the communities they have left behind, to ensure that that is helping to shape our policies.

As we have heard and seen in the utterly heartbreaking scenes on our TV screens every night, urgent humanitarian aid is absolutely essential, but people in Afghanistan also desperately need access to basic public services. Can the Minister set out what the Government are doing to co-ordinate a global plan to get the money needed to keep local schools, clinics and hospitals running?

The money that we have already announced is providing over 6 million people not only with food but with health, water, protection, shelter and so on. I agree on the importance of ensuring that children and young people, especially girls, can return to school. The Taliban have said that they can, but we want to see that delivered when schools reopen at the end of the holidays at the beginning of March. We will continue to work with other organisations, especially going into the UN pledging conference, to call people together to ensure that those donations come through.

It is estimated that the war in Afghanistan cost the US $2 trillion. The same BBC report indicates that the UK cost was $1.5 billion per annum. The Minister says that the UK Government are committed to spending £286 million this year. Can she explain why the spending on war dwarfs the spending on aid, despite the clear humanitarian crisis and the UK’s moral obligation to the country?

None of us wishes to be in this situation. There is a deeply concerning humanitarian situation, and what we all saw happening over the summer when the Taliban moved in so quickly left a really difficult situation, but Operation Pitting and the work of our soldiers to evacuate those 15,000 people was really incredible. It is important now that funding comes from across the world, not just from the UK. We continue to be a leading donor with the money we have contributed so far, which is helping the 4 million. I cannot comment any further ahead of the conference, but I am sure that the House will be informed as and when we make further announcements through written ministerial statements.

I am sorry, but the answers we have heard today are just completely inadequate. I do not think the Minister understands that tens of millions of people will starve to death in Afghanistan unless she steps up and meets the need, economically and politically, to put in the resolution that we need. I have been trying to meet Ministers with the only Afghan MP in our country. Two months have gone by and we still do not have a meeting. MPs know their communities and how to get the money to the frontline, but they need help from this Government. Where is it?

My colleague Lord Ahmad met a group of leading Afghan women in this country only last week. If the hon. Lady would like to contact me about her particular contact, I will make sure he reaches out so that such roundtables can include other people recommended by this House. It is a deeply tragic situation. It is many millions of people. There are other very, very difficult humanitarian situations across the world. Just last week, I announced further funding for humanitarian aid in Somalia, in Kenya and in Ethiopia—a very serious situation. The UK’s aid is currently providing food for over 4.4 million people. We will support the conference and the House will continue to be updated when we have more news to share.

Can I just say that I am bothered about this: if Members ask to meet Ministers, Ministers should try to make sure they are available, otherwise they are beginning to ignore the Back Benchers to whom Ministers are meant to be answerable.

It is clear to me that we have a moral obligation to support the people of Afghanistan, who feel abandoned. The Minister stated that UK funding is getting to where it is needed. With that in mind, it is vital to ensure that support is delivered on the ground for Christians who are at the bottom of the pecking order for Taliban assistance. What can be done to ensure that food is received by Christians and other ethnic minorities? What will be done to improve a dire and precarious position, and ensure that UK funding gets, as the Minister stated, to where it is needed?

We work with a lot of different local organisations through the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. If there are specific organisations that the hon. Member would like to engage with, then he can contact me.

Mr Speaker, regarding meetings with Ministers, I am more than happy, of course, to meet Members, but in this case, I think that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) needs to meet the Minister responsible, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad. However, I will follow up on that point, because it is the first time I have heard an inquiry of that nature.