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Former UK premier calls for special conference to avoid starvation in Afghanistan

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KABUL: Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called on Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to help organize an aid conference to raise $4.5 billion for Afghanistan, warning that tens of millions of Afghans face starvation if funds are not raised.

“We are witnessing a shameful but also self-defeating failure to prevent famine,” Brown said, adding that Britain should lead on restarting aid to the Taliban-controlled country.

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, he wrote that cash has been available to support Afghans but donor countries fear retribution following strict US sanctions that were applied on the Taliban regime. 

Brown said those sanctions could and should be relaxed if the Taliban demonstrates progress on women’s rights.

The UN on Tuesday launched a call for $4.5 billion in aid for 2022, the largest appeal in the organization’s history.

The US has committed $308 million, which are expected to be sent through various independent humanitarian groups.

Brown said this is insufficient, adding: “The 35-country, American-led coalition that ruled Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people has still put up only a quarter of the money that would allow UN humanitarians to stop children dying this winter.”

He said he had written to Truss and Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission president, calling for them to host a donor conference “in January or at the latest in February” to allow the urgently needed aid to be sent.

The UN has detailed how the Afghan economy has totally destabilized since US-led forces left the country last summer, with a 40 percent contraction mooted by experts. 

International aid was plugged almost instantly once the Taliban took power amid US sanctions.

“The devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect,” Brown wrote, adding that the UN “forecasts that if we do not act, 97 percent of Afghans will soon be living below the poverty line.”

He outlined how roughly 90 percent of the country’s health clinics “do not have the funds to keep themselves open.”

UK aid to Afghanistan, which was increased to £286 million ($391 million) in August, has been central to healthcare provision.

“Aid workers now find children huddled together under threadbare blankets in temporary camps and hovels or lying wrapped in their mothers’ burqas outside hospitals waiting for treatment that is now simply not available,” Brown said.

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