UN official: Afghanistan ‘not a hopeless crisis’ despite challenges

UNITED NATIONS — Afghanistan is “not a hopeless crisis,” Edem Wosornu of the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) told journalists in New York following a recent visit to the country, Pakistan and war-wracked Sudan.

The international community cannot abandon Afghanistan, she said, urging continued engagement and support for the population.

Wosornu was part of an all-woman delegation in Afghanistan, where the climate crisis has caused widespread water scarcity, generating new food, health, and nutrition needs.

Overall, 23 million people rely on humanitarian assistance, five times more than in 2019, and over 15 million now face high levels of food insecurity. Recent deadly floods in central and northern regions have added to the suffering.

Wosornu said restrictions imposed by the de facto Taliban authorities on Afghan women aid workers have added complexity to humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. About 1.4 million women and adolescent girls are still under an education ban.

“While delivering humanitarian assistance, our courageous Afghan female colleagues face many challenges and assume personal risks every day to and from work,” she said.

Humanitarian partners continue to negotiate with Taliban authorities on the issue.

Wosornu also raised the clampdown in talks with various senior officials, including the Taliban’s economic and foreign ministers, during her four-day visit.

“It was a constant part of my messaging: Afghan women need to work, and it is essential,” she said.

Asked about the education ban, she said the de facto authorities repeated the message that they need time, to which she responded, “We don’t have time because the numbers speak for themselves.”

“I was also very clear that the more we wait, the more millions of children will be affected and the more it will impact the society,” she said.

She reported that some members of the “de facto authority community…were turning a blind eye to some of the activities that we were doing.” In some provinces, UN humanitarians were allowed to move freely.

“So, there is hope to continue pushing. And the message, as I said before, at all levels was you need to lift these restrictions because we need to do our job in the education sector and the health sector.”

Wosornu said the Afghan people need three things from the international community: continued humanitarian assistance, sustainable solutions including livelihood and agricultural support, and to be heard.

Noting that a $3.6 billion appeal for the country is just 16% funded, she urged the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan.

“This is not a hopeless crisis,” she said. “At least I was encouraged to see that the people of Afghanistan continue to fight and push for what they believe in. The world cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan at this point.”

Saving Lives in Pakistan

Like Afghanistan, Pakistan has also been hit by recent flooding caused by heavy rains. Wosornu saw firsthand the impact on agricultural families in Peshawar who have lost their crops and whose children cannot get to school.

She visited the government’s emergency center in the capital, Islamabad, “where they are trying their best to ensure that predictability is key, where they can prevent massive loss of life from the early warning systems,” adding that the authorities have asked for UN support.