Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the High-level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan
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GENEVA, 13 September 2021 – “Children in Afghanistan have long suffered disproportionately from the humanitarian, security, social and economic crises that have plagued the country for decades. Their suffering is far from over and they need our help.
“Nearly 10 million girls and boys depend on humanitarian assistance just to survive.
“At least 1 million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year and could die without treatment.
“Nearly 600,000 people, more than half of whom are children, have been displaced by conflict this year.
“The number of unaccompanied and separated children is increasing.
“And we have received informal reports of the recruitment of children by parties to the conflict and are concerned that children may be at heightened risk of experiencing other grave violations of their rights.
“Without urgent action, the grim situation facing Afghanistan’s children is likely to deteriorate over the coming months because of severe drought and water scarcity, the concerns around financing for the continuity of basic services, the onset of winter and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is why we are here today – to urge the international community to increase support for UN humanitarian agencies and our partners so we can maintain and expand life-saving and other critical programmes for children and families in need.
“A robust humanitarian response is necessary to protect important development gains that have been made in recent years, while also planting the seeds for longer-term stability.
“For example, the number of schools in Afghanistan has tripled since 2002 and school enrolment has increased tenfold over the past twenty years, reaching almost 10 million children today – including nearly 4 million girls.
“These are important improvements that we cannot lose for the country’s children and upon which we must keep building because there is far more room to grow. Over 4.2 million children remain out of school. And according to our most recent data, nearly 50 per cent of girls in Afghanistan have never even entered primary education. This needs to change.
“Protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls are central features of the humanitarian-development continuum. We will continue to press for and closely monitor girls’ and women’s safety and access to essential services, as well as the ability of female teachers and health workers to return to work.
“UNICEF has been on the ground in Afghanistan for more than 70 years, working across the country to provide a wide range of critical humanitarian and development interventions. We know what needs to be done for children. And we can get it done, together with our partners, so long as we have the full funding support, transportation of supplies and staff, and full humanitarian access to safely reach those in need.
“We need to ensure aid is not politicized - prioritization of funding decisions should be based on needs first. We must look for ways to deliver timely and sustained assistance at scale.
“These efforts will include expanding our programmes to provide more children, women and families with access to health care, nutrition support, protection, shelter, education, water and sanitation. And we are actively exploring options to keep essential services afloat, through an “all-of-organization” effort - humanitarian and development - lives and livelihoods.
“We are already seeing results. 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. 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.
“None of this work would have been possible without the dedication of our frontline workers on the ground, especially our national staff. They remain committed to serving children, often at great risk to their own lives. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will do everything in our power to guarantee their safety and protection.
“Please help us. There has never been a more urgent time to stand with the children of Afghanistan and the people who serve them. Without your support, essential services will come to a grinding halt and the country will slip further into chaos. The world cannot let that happen again.”