Amid unresolved wrangling with Taliban authorities over women’s right to work and education and a decline in donor funding, the United Nations has cut its humanitarian aid request for Afghanistan by more than $1 billion, forcing aid agencies to stop giving critical assistance to millions of people.
In March, the U.N. belatedly launched a Humanitarian Response Plan, or HRP, for Afghanistan, asking donors for $4.6 billion in funding to assist more than 23 million of the most vulnerable Afghans this year. The appeal’s launch was delayed for two months following a Taliban announcement in December banning Afghan women from working at U.N. agencies.
Women in Afghanistan are barred from education and work indefinitely due to “religious and cultural considerations,” Taliban officials say.
Several aid agencies suspended operations in response to the ban on women’s work as donors warned there would be consequences for the Taliban regime.
A mid-year review of the HRP has resulted in significant adjustments in the required funding and the number of beneficiaries it will assist.
“The revised HRP aims to reach 20 million people with multi-sectoral assistance between June and December 2023, requiring $2.26 billion in new funding,” the U.N. said last week.
Consequently, the revised funding appeal now totals just over $3.2 billion, including $942 million (with $850 million carried over from last year) that has been already expended to aid 17.3 million people between January and May of this year.
“Only a fraction of the appeal has been responded to favorably, so that’s the reason that the program had to be cut,” Richard Hoffman, director of ACBAR, a coordination platform for NGOs in Afghanistan, told VOA.
Taliban restrictions are contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and “the responsibility for the consequences lies with the Taliban leadership,” Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
Drop in donor funding
As of June 20, donors have given or pledged less than 15% ($467.5 million) of the required funding for the HRP, according to the U.N.
In March, Roza Otunbayeva, U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, had warned that “funding for Afghanistan is likely to drop if women [are] not allowed to work.”
Several Western donors that gave more than $2 billion in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in 2022, before the Taliban imposed their ban on women’s work for the U.N., now appear to have cut aid to the country.
The United States, which contributed more than $1.2 billion to the humanitarian appeal last year, has given $74 million as of this past June.
Similarly, the United Kingdom, another major donor, allocated $522 million in 2022 but has only contributed around $30 million thus far in 2023. Germany’s funding has dropped from $444 million to $34 million during the same period, according to U.N. figures.
Western donors blame the Taliban for impeding humanitarian operations in the country by adopting misogynistic and intrusive policies.
“The U.S. government remains committed to helping the Afghan people through the humanitarian and economic crisis that the Taliban created and have exacerbated with the discriminatory NGO edict,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State told VOA in written comments.
Last week, the United States announced $920 million in additional humanitarian aid for Syria, taking its total assistance to Syria and the region to $1.1 billion in 2023 and nearly $16.9 billion since the start of the 12-year crisis there.
The State Department spokesperson did not answer a question about the disparity in U.S. assistance to Syria and Afghanistan.
The Taliban, however, accuse donors of politicizing aid to Afghanistan, saying the group has facilitated a safe environment for aid agencies to operate.
“I think it’s fair to say that there are consequences for the [Taliban] government’s decisions and actions,” said Hoffman from ACBAR.
“When I meet government officials, the first thing that they mentioned is always that they are grateful for the assistance that NGOs bring to Afghanistan and I’m quite open in saying that, you know, we will be able to deliver that aid more effectively and efficiently if female NGO workers can work alongside their male counterparts,” Hoffman said.
The shortage of funding has already forced the World Food Program (WFP) to cut much-needed food aid to 8 million Afghans over the past two months, including for 1.4 million children and mothers who face risks of malnutrition.
“Removing 8 million poor Afghans from assistance over less than 60 days is an immense shock for over a million families already struggling to meet their daily food needs,” a WFP spokesperson wrote to VOA in written comments.
The agency said it requires $900 million in the next half of the year to deliver life-saving aid to millions of households across the country.
Aid agencies also warn about cuts in other critical areas such as health, shelter and education.
“Without an urgent injection of funding, the country could spiral into famine-like conditions,” Save the Children, an international NGO operating in Afghanistan, said in a statement on Monday.
“The legacy of decades of conflict, a third consecutive year of drought, the international community’s suspension of development assistance and imposition of sanctions since August 2021, and a worsening economy, are contributing to the suffering of the Afghan people,” the statement added.