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U.S. announces fresh $308 million in humanitarian aid for struggling Afghans

The United Nations and aid groups have warned of a pending humanitarian catastrophe in the country of 38 million people.  
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The United States announced Tuesday that it was giving more than $308 million in humanitarian aid to the Afghan people in an effort to support Afghans facing economic collapse under the new Taliban government

The White House said the administration will also send one million additional Covid-19 vaccine doses to the country, which is grappling not just with the global pandemic but with widespread hunger in the wake of the militant group's takeover and the U.S. exit.

The United Nations and aid groups have repeatedly warned of a pending humanitarian catastrophe in the country of 38 million people. On Tuesday they appealed for a record $4.4 billion in aid as an "essential stop gap" to ease the suffering.

Washington and its Western allies are attempting to help the Afghan people while bypassing their Taliban rulers. Countries that have refused to recognize the Taliban government have suspended foreign aid on which the state relied and frozen billions of dollars of Afghan assets abroad, mostly in the United States.

Women queue to receive cash at a money distribution organised by the World Food Program in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 20, 2021.Petros Giannakouris / AP

The new assistance will flow through independent humanitarian organizations and will help provide aid such as essential health care, emergency food aid, water and sanitation in response to the growing humanitarian needs of the population, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement about the aid contribution.

The new commitment is on top of some $474 million the U.S. has already contributed to Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in the region since October 2021 and the additional Covid vaccine doses brings the total contributed to Afghans to 4.3 million, Horne said. 

“The United States is committed to supporting the Afghan people and we continue to consider all options available to us. We stand with the people of Afghanistan.” she added. 

The U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in August, concluding America's longest war following a lightning-quick offensive by the Taliban. The country was already desperately poor, but when the Taliban took over on Aug. 15 the bottom dropped out of the economy. 

A combination of a severe drought and sanctions on the Taliban that cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in international funding has caused the economy to buckle. The government has largely been unable to pay salaries, jobs across the economy have disappeared and food prices are surging. 

A mother holds her 4 year old daughter who is suffering from acute malnutrition, at their house near Herat, Afghanistan in December. Mstyslav Chernov / AP

This has pushed poor Afghans over the edge, and forced some to sell their possessions and even their daughters to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, the number of people begging in the streets is rising like never before, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s head of delegation in Afghanistan, Eloi Fillion, told NBC News in an emailed statement.  

“People are selling their assets or burning furniture to keep warm,” Fillion said. “We hear from a lot of people, especially health workers, who haven’t been paid in a long time, who have been evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. Pressure is mounting on every family.” 

Last month, the United Nations’ World Food Programme warned that a total of 22.8 million, more than half of the population, faced acute hunger while temperatures plummeted below zero.

At the same time a severe drought has hit more than 80 percent of the country, impairing food production, according to The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent. Nearly 700,000 people were forced to leave their land due to drought, economic crisis and conflict last year.

About 70 percent of Afghanistan’s population live in rural areas, and 85 percent drive income from agriculture meaning climate shocks such as drought have an outsized effect on Afghans and the national economy, according to Shelley Thakral, the World Food Programme’s head of communications in the country.

U.N. agencies on Tuesday asked donors for $4.4 billion in aid for the country in 2022, calling the funds an “essential stop gap” to ensure its future.

The U.N. said the appeal, which amounts to nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP, is the largest ever sought for a single country.

“This is a stop gap, an absolutely essential stop gap measure that we are putting in front of the international community today,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

“Without this being funded there won’t be a future, we need this to be done otherwise there will be outflow, there will be suffering.”

United Nations officials gave a press conference on the launch of the 2022 humanitarian response plans for Afghanistan and the region from Geneva on Monday.Fabrice Coffrini / AFP - Getty Images

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) described the $308 million as the government’s “initial” 2022 contribution. 

“President [Joe] Biden has been clear that humanitarian assistance will continue to flow directly to the Afghan people and the United States remains the single largest provider of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan,” it said in a statement announcing the new aid Tuesday.  

The new contribution will provide life-saving aid for the most vulnerable, including women, girls, minority populations, and people with disabilities. As well as health care, emergency food aid, water and sanitation, the aid will also include “winterization” programs such as shelter kits, heaters, blankets and warm clothing, USAID said. 

“The United States continues to urge the Taliban to allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders,” it said. 

The United States led an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, toppling the Taliban regime after it sheltered Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It withdrew nearly 20 years later, leaving the country back in the hands of the Taliban.