The international community and the de facto authorities must find ways to work together – for the sake of the children of Afghanistan
Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell at the end of three-day trip to Afghanistan
KABUL/NEW YORK, 25 February 2022 – “Decades of conflict, a devastating drought, a collapsing economy and the impact of international sanctions are causing irreparable damage to the children of Afghanistan.
“I have just finished a short visit to the country and what I saw gave me cause for grave concern.
“In the streets of Kabul, scores of very young children dart in and out of traffic, chasing cars and asking for money. Store shelves and vegetable markets are well stocked, yet hardly anyone can afford to buy. In a hospital in Kandahar, emaciated babies lie motionless two to a bed, too weak to even cry amid a spike in cases of severe acute malnutrition. A 25-year-old mother of five told me that her family subsists on a diet of bread and water.
“And things are poised to get even worse. According to our projections for 2022, more than 1 million children will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 13 million children will need humanitarian assistance. Diseases like measles and acute watery diarrhoea will continue to spread. Up to 97 per cent of all Afghan families could be living below the poverty line in a matter of months.
“This is no way to live. The children of Afghanistan cannot be held hostage to politics. Decisions and actions taken today will dictate whether these children live or die, whether they suffer or thrive, and ultimately, whether the country survives or declines.
“The boys and girls I spoke to have dreams, but they can’t fulfil them if they continue to be shut out of school, if they have to work on the streets, if they are married off in exchange for dowry, if their parents have no jobs, or if they are dying from hunger.
“We can, and must, do better for them.
“UNICEF is on the ground, doing everything we can to assist children. We are training teachers, setting up community-based classes, vaccinating children against preventable childhood diseases, improving access to water and sanitation services, and providing treatment for severe acute malnutrition. We have paid cash incentives for teachers and health workers, and provided supplies to public health facilities across the country.
“But aid agencies can only do so much. The international community and the de facto authorities need to find ways to work together, for the sake of children.
“I urge the de facto authorities to translate their promises on women and children’s rights into concrete action and allow all girls to go to school and all women to go back to work – without any further delays. I urge them to do their utmost to put services back on track, including by paying teachers, health workers and other public servants. I ask them to guarantee the safety of polio workers who do heroic work and face constant threats, as we saw yesterday with the tragic killing of eight polio workers in Kunduz.
“I urge the international community to find ways to avoid any conditionalities that impede access to life-saving support and that stop frontline workers from getting paid. I urge them to grant us the funding we need to help the most vulnerable. We are grateful for the support we have received, but the needs are massive and we need additional funds.
“Time is of the essence. The longer we wait, the worse things will be for the children of Afghanistan.”