1 million children at risk of starvation, UNICEF chief warns

Afghan children, who salvage recyclable items from garbage to make a living, eat a meal of rice in Jalalabad on June 30, 2013.

Noorullah Shirzada | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — At least 1 million children in Afghanistan will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year and could die without proper treatment, UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore warned Monday.

“Nearly 10 million girls and boys depend on humanitarian assistance just to survive,” Henrietta Fore said at a United Nations’ ministerial-level meeting on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.

Fore implored the international community and wealthy nations to help avert further suffering after Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government collapsed practically overnight last month and Taliban militants took control of the country.

“Please help us,” she said. Fore’s remarks come at a pivotal time in the history of international aid to Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban takeover Aug. 15, most developed nations in the West have frozen their direct aid to Afghanistan, wary of delivering money to a militant Islamist regime that ruled the country with brutal force from 1996 to 2001.

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Western countries see the frozen aid money to Afghanistan as a key leverage point as they attempt to pressure the Taliban to establish a government that respects individual rights, especially the rights of women and girls.

In the meantime, groups like UNICEF are getting a second look from Western governments seeking ways to deliver aid to Afghanistan’s neediest citizens while bypassing the Taliban government.

On Monday, the United States announced an additional $64 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which will be delivered through groups like the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Nearly 600,000 people, more than half of whom are children, have been displaced by conflict this year” in Afghanistan, Fore said.

Fore also emphasized UNICEF’s unique ability to operate in one of the poorest and most war torn countries in the world.

“UNICEF has been on the ground in Afghanistan for more than 70 years,” she said, “We know what needs to be done for children. And we can get it done.”

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the U.S. military withdrawal last month prompted many international aid workers to leave the country, fearing for their safety.

But UNICEF stayed and got things done, Fore said.

“In the last two weeks, we have provided 170,000 people affected by drought with safe drinking water and deployed mobile health teams in 14 provinces to continue delivering basic health services for children and women,” she said.

“During the last week of August, UNICEF provided 4,000 severely malnourished children under five with life-saving therapeutic treatment, and road missions have begun.”

It remains to be seen whether the newly minted Taliban government will permit international aid groups like UNICEF to operate safely…

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