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SG/SM/20896
13 September 2021

Funding, Protection for Women Top List of What Is Owed to Afghanistan in ‘Most Perilous Hour’, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Humanitarian Meeting

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the high‑level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, in Geneva today:

The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline.  After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour.  Now is the time for the international community to stand with them.

Let us be clear:  this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan.  It is about what we owe.

Even before the dramatic events of the last weeks, Afghans were experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.  Today, 1 in 3 Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from.  The poverty rate is spiralling and basic public services are close to collapse.  Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes.

At the same time, Afghanistan faces a severe drought — the second to hit the country in four years.  Many people could run out of food by the end of this month, just as winter approaches.  And of course, COVID-19 continues to stalk the country.

The United Nations family, and the humanitarian system at large, are delivering for the people of Afghanistan — with food, life-saving interventions and essential health care, including maternal health care.  We have established robust mechanisms to coordinate the response across development and humanitarian efforts, anchored in human rights.

I asked the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, to travel to Kabul last week to meet the leadership of the Taliban.  He reinforced our commitment to deliver impartial and independent humanitarian assistance and protection to millions of people in need.

He emphasized the critical role of women in the delivery of aid, and urged all parties to ensure their rights, safety and well-being.  He called for all civilians — especially women, girls and minorities — to be protected at all times.

The de facto authorities pledged — in person and in a follow-up letter to Under-Secretary-General Griffiths — that they will cooperate to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan.  Our staff and all aid workers must be allowed to do their vital work in safety, without harassment, intimidation or fear.

To continue our life-saving efforts in Afghanistan we need four things right away.  First, funding.  We need more.  We need it quickly.  And we need it to be flexible enough to adapt to the fast-changing conditions on the ground.  I urge you to support our flash appeal for $606 million, to get urgent assistance to 11 million people in the next four months.

Today we are announcing a $20 million allocation from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund to support the humanitarian operation in Afghanistan.

Second, we need your help to boost humanitarian access, including the airbridge with Kabul and other hubs in Afghanistan.  The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) established an airbridge from Islamabad into Kandahar, Mazar and Herat, with operations running since the end of August.

Yesterday, UNHAS flights were resumed from Islamabad to Kabul, and are now fully operational across the country.  This work must continue.  Much more is needed.

We need to be able to move aid workers and humanitarian supplies in and out of the country.  We need unimpeded access to get to hotspots quickly, safely monitor response and move relief items within the country.

Third, we need to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, including through access to education and other essential services.  One of the bright spots of Afghanistan today is the new generation of women leaders and entrepreneurs — educated and flourishing over the last two decades.

Afghan women and girls want to ensure that gains are not lost, doors are not closed and hope is not extinguished.  This is central to the future of the country and every Afghan.

Finally, we need to ensure that our humanitarian response saves lives but also saves livelihoods.  The people of Afghanistan are facing the collapse of an entire country, all at once.  Afghanistan faces a development emergency, and we must protect the progress of the two last decades.

In doing so, we must ensure that local economies remain functional, that people can stay in their communities and in their homes and that they have access to basic services, basic income and social protection.

The international community must find ways to make cash available to allow the Afghan economy to breathe.  A total collapse would have devastating consequences to the people and risk to destabilize the neighbouring countries with a massive outflow.

Stopgap solutions are critical, but the Afghan people will need our support over the long haul.  So, too, will Member States generously opening their doors to Afghans forced to flee their country.  And all Member States must respect international refugee protection responsibilities.  Our support must match the scale of the needs.

I have visited Kabul many times over many years of conflict.  These missions were full of horror, misery and grief.  But, they were also marked by the hope, faith and determination of the Afghan people I met.

They want extreme poverty to be eradicated.  They want decent jobs to be available.  They want their lives and basic freedoms to be protected.  They want their country free of insecurity and terror.  In short, they want what every member of the human family wants and deserves.  We need to invest in that hope and promise.

Allow me to close with a special word of admiration and gratitude to the United Nations staff and the entire aid community in Afghanistan — the vast majority of whom are Afghan nationals.

They are doing extraordinary work throughout the country and have my full solidarity.  Let us commit to support them as they support the Afghan people, and to ensure they can do their work safely.

Time is short and events move quickly in Afghanistan.  Let us extend a lifeline to the people of Afghanistan and do everything we can — and everything we owe — to help them hold on to hope.

For information media. Not an official record.