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UN seeks $600 million to avert Afghanistan humanitarian crisis

China, Pakistan are seeking ways to engage with Taliban government in Afghanistan. Source: Reuters.

GENEVA: The United Nations is convening an aid conference in Geneva on Monday in an effort to raise more than $600 million for Afghanistan, warning of a humanitarian crisis there following the Taliban takeover.

Even before the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul last month, half the population – or 18 million people – was dependent on aid. That figure looks set to increase due to drought and shortages of cash and food, UN officials and aid groups warn.

An abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign donations following the collapse of Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and the ensuing victory of the Taliban has heaped more pressure on U.N. programmes.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says his organisation is struggling financially: “At the present moment the UN is not even able to pay its salaries to its own workers,” he told reporters on Friday.

The Geneva conference, due to begin on Monday afternoon, will be attended by top UN officials including Guterres, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer, as well as dozens of government representatives including German foreign minister Heiko Maas.

About a third of the $606 million being sought would be used by the UN World Food Programme which found that 93% of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient foods, mostly because they could not get access to cash to pay for it.

“It’s now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most,” said WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb. “We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out.”

The World Health Organization, another UN agency that’s part of the appeal, is seeking to shore up hundreds of health facilities at risk of closure after donors backed out.

Qatar’s foreign minister visits

Qatar’s foreign minister held talks with the prime minister of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan on Sunday, in the highest-level foreign visit to Kabul since the militant group seized the capital last month.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called upon the country’s new rulers to “involve all Afghan parties in national reconciliation” when he met Prime Minister Mullah Muhammad Hasan Akhund, Qatar’s foreign ministry said.

Sheikh Mohammed and new premier Akhund also discussed “concerted efforts to combat terrorist organizations that threaten the stability of Afghanistan”, ways to enhance peace in the country and the safe passage of people, according to the Qatar ministry.

Sheikh Mohammed met the prime minister and a number of other senior ministers, a Taliban spokesman said. “The meeting focused on bilateral relations, humanitarian assistance, economic development and interaction with the world,” according to the Taliban.

The meeting in the presidential palace was attended by a number of other Afghan ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Defence Minister Yaqoob Mujahid, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasiq.

The Taliban said the leadership of the Islamic Emirate, the term used by the group to describe the new order in Afghanistan, thanked the Qatar government for supporting the Afghan people.

The Doha agreement, signed by the United States and the Taliban, was a “landmark achievement, all sides should adhere to its implementation”, the Taliban added.

Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed also met Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the previous Afghan government, and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the foreign ministry said.