Opening Remarks by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths at the Afghanistan High-Level Donor Meeting – Afghanistan

Doha, March 31, 2022

As delivered

Many thanks Melissa. Thank you very much for this opportunity.

And thank you, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, and of course Secretary-General.

Thank you all for being here.

I would also like to thank the Governments of Qatar, the United Kingdom and Germany for their deep commitment to the Afghan people, as evidenced by their co-welcoming today.

I just left Afghanistan today and actually just arrived here in Doha.

I spent time in Kabul and Bamyan and I have to tell you that I saw human suffering during those three days that left me speechless incubators. These babies were emaciated, listless and much too small. And be careful, it’s in downtown Kabul, not in the rural and poorer areas of this country.

A five-month-old baby, Zuleika was so weak she couldn’t cry. Her eyes just stared at me with a glassy expression, as she opened and closed her mouth silently and beside her, her mother was also silently crying.

I met another woman who was doing her best to keep her three-month-old baby alive.

She told us that she had already lost two of her children to starvation.

Hospital staff told me that three babies had already died the day we visited this ward of about 20 people.

For any parent, this seems unimaginable. Hospital staff are working heroically to help these patients – the youngest ones – have a chance at life. Their critical work is made possible by the ICRC – we will learn more with Peter Maurer – which stepped in to pay the salaries of hospital staff. But also, with technical assistance and material support from WHO and UNICEF working together seamlessly.

When I asked the director of the hospital what he wanted as a message, he replied: “Can you make sure that the support continues? In recent months, life for ordinary Afghans has become even more unbearable, as we have heard.
Six out of 10 people in Afghanistan are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which almost 6 million people have been uprooted inside the country. They need food and health care, but also livelihood support. The economy is too weak to sustain the lives of its inhabitants.

As we have heard, we are appealing for $4.4 billion for this year to provide lifesaving assistance. A record number and I think we all wish it were otherwise.

But it goes to show that life, as the Secretary-General said, hangs by a thread for more than half the Afghan people.

With the generous support of donors, we will continue to do all we can, as we have done.

The emergency response kept millions of vulnerable Afghans alive, including women and children.
Last year, we helped nearly half the population with life-saving aid.

Thanks to generous donor contributions, the humanitarian response since September has avoided the worst. And indeed, it was the best-funded appeal last year, providing a lifeline to millions.

I thank Afghanistan’s neighbours, and I am here in one of them, for providing shelter to nearly six million of its people and I thank UNHCR and its High Commissioner for their leadership in the response regional.

Despite this, we are barely managing to avoid extreme food insecurity, preserve some essential services and barely prevent a complete collapse of the country.

And as we have heard from previous speakers and I am sure we will hear from others to come, whichever way you look at it, the Afghan people need more than just humanitarian aid. The situation is incredibly fragile.

Many humanitarian donors rightly stress the need for the de facto Taliban authorities to play their part and we have heard it again today. Many are particularly frustrated by the recent decision to restrict access to education for girls and I fully share this frustration, as we all do.

And yet, and I want to say this clearly, you cannot make the Afghan people suffer twice. They desperately need help. Please don’t cut aid because of that miserable statement we heard last week.

I also want to report that I met the Taliban in Kabul – because that’s why I went there – and I heard a renewed sense of commitment to these assurances offered to me, as well as to the humanitarian community, in writing. [in 2021] which we discussed when the Secretary-General launched the appeal on 13 September in Geneva.

And they reaffirmed their commitment to these promises of space and principle, of unhindered access and operations for humanitarian assistance and the freedom of all humanitarian workers to operate unhindered.

And I left these meetings yesterday and the day before yesterday with the firm conviction that the door to engagement with the de facto authorities remains open. They want to engage. They want to find a constructive way forward. Often they don’t know exactly how to achieve this with the international community and that very much includes the very difficult issue of girls’ education which of course I have discussed in detail. I feel like they need to fix this in the near future, just like we all hope it will in the very near future.

Opportunities are available to us and we must seize them to ensure a future for the Afghan people. We must find productive ways, as Filippo Grandi recently said during his visit to Afghanistan not long ago, to engage in real dialogue with the Taliban.

And that’s what some of the Taliban leaders I’ve met over the past few days have told me, indeed, and they’ve urged me to send that message to the international community. I believe they are ready to do it and I know, of course, that the UN is ready to do it. I spent time, of course, with the leadership of our very distinguished mission, UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan), in Kabul.

The challenge before us requires political will, but it is not insurmountable. We can achieve this together with patience, with dialogue, with understanding and also with insistence on values.

How can the Afghan people be helped to find a glimmer of hope? To move forward, I believe we need to make progress on several fronts. First, we need sustainable, unconditional and flexible funding to help us continue to reach more people in our humanitarian response plan, in the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund and in the regional response plan under the leadership of the UNHCR.

Secondly, as the distinguished minister from Qatar said very clearly, we need to find a way to put money back into the economy and into people’s pockets. The salaries of public sector workers, health workers, teachers and other essential services – the people I saw in this hospital the day before yesterday – must be paid. These are the people who are essential to the survival of millions of Afghans.

And meeting basic human needs, so much talked about as a priority in Afghanistan, is indeed for me one of the main messages I take away from this visit to Afghanistan. Humanitarian operations do not exist independently of other needs.

And third, for that to happen, Afghanistan can no longer be isolated from the international financial system. The restoration of the formal banking system is essential for the country and for the delivery of humanitarian aid, again, as the Minister of State of Qatar has said. And for that, the Central Bank must have the necessary technical capacities and we need this Humanitarian Exchange Facility to be operational as soon as possible.

We must also recognize the role, and we will hear their leaders, of regional entities such as the Islamic Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and of course the OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] which has already been mentioned, can play in restoring confidence in the Afghan banking system and measures to restore its economic agility, but also to do so with appropriate accountability mechanisms.

And finally, the international community must find more meaningful and constructive ways to engage the de facto authorities on all of these important issues we are discussing here today.

Only through dialogue can we finally address some of the most important drivers of humanitarian need.

I hope we can progress together on these fronts and I am very, very happy and honored to be part of this segment.

Thanks very much.