Summary of remarks by UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi on Afghanistan during the Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

15 October 2021

NEW YORK, 15 October 2021 - "Afghanistan is a country in deep crisis, and those least responsible – the country’s children – are paying the heaviest price. 

"Even before the Taliban takeover, at least 10 million children across the country were in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.

"At least 1 million of these children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition without immediate treatment. 

"The health system and social services are on the verge of collapse.

"Medical supplies are running dangerously low.

"We are already seeing an increase in cases of measles and acute watery diarrhea. Polio remains a concern.

"I visited the children’s hospital and was shocked to see how packed it was with malnourished children, some of them babies.  

"Teachers and health workers have not been paid in at least two months – and yet they continue to report to work.

"And as the Secretary-General told you earlier this week, the economic system is on the verge of collapse.

"The situation is critical and it will only get worse.

"We anticipate that the humanitarian needs of children and women will increase over the coming months amidst a severe drought and consequent water scarcity, an uncertain security environment, continued displacement, the devastating socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the onset of winter. 

"As I speak to you today, millions of girls of secondary school age are missing out on education for the 27th consecutive day. In my meetings with the de facto authorities, I impressed upon them the need to let girls resume their learning. This is critical for the girls themselves – and for the country as a whole.

"Here I would like to share some statistics about education in Afghanistan:

  • The number of children enrolled in schools increased from 1 million in 2001 – most of them boys – to almost 10 million children, including 4 million girls, at present.   
  • The number of schools tripled, from 6,000 to 18,000. 
  • Despite this progress, 4.2 million children are out of school, including 2.6 million girls.

"The education gains of the past two decades must be strengthened, not rolled back.

"Finally, a word about our operations.

"We have been in Afghanistan for more than 70 years providing aid to those most in need.

"We have been scaling up our programmes across the country as we gain access to areas that were previously off limits. UNICEF has 13 sub-offices in the country, in addition to our main office in Kabul.  

"We carry out our work according to the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. 

"UNICEF, the UN and humanitarian partners are sparing no effort to overcome financial shortfalls, logistical challenges, and an increasingly complex geo-political situation to support the millions of women, men, and children in Afghanistan who depend on humanitarian assistance and protection.

"The de facto authorities, UN member states, donors, humanitarian organizations, and other stakeholders must mobilize immediately to prevent a further humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.

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Christopher Tidey
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