How is it possible that in these first weeks of 2022 the world is allowing millions of Afghan children to starve to death?
And this after months in which the UN, a host of governments, the EU and the Arab League, not to mention former US army commanders, ambassadors and aid workers, have publicly called for immediate action to stop the cascade of Afghan lives lost to hunger and malnutrition.
On Tuesday, Martin Griffiths and Filippo Grandi, UN humanitarian and refugee coordinators, renewed their appeal for countries to send food and emergency supplies. They announced the biggest humanitarian appeal for a single country since 1945 – a $4.5 billion request to help more than 23 million Afghans on the brink of starvation.
For the devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect. “Give us food” was the slogan of protests in Kabul a few days ago, as the aid guarantees given by world powers in August turned into a trail of unfulfilled promises. Dawn in Afghanistan is greeted by long queues of women and children at bakeries for the only food still available – bread – but even that is in short supply due to a 40 per cent drop in wheat production following the worst drought in decades. Griffiths predicts that 97 per cent of Afghans could soon be living below the poverty line if we don’t act. In other words, to be Afghan today is to be condemned to abject poverty or destitution.
Aid workers find children huddled together under string blankets in makeshift camps and barracks, or lying wrapped in their mothers’ burqas outside hospitals waiting for treatment that is simply not available. Before August, 30 million Afghans depended on health care run by the World Bank. Now more than 90% of the country’s health clinics do not have the means to stay open.
This is the new world order, shown at its most selfish and morally flawed: countries are locked in a narrow nationalism of “America first”, “Britain first”, “my tribe first”, and locked in a geopolitics that puts military and economic sanctions above food for the hungry. Even after America gave $308 million on 12 January, the 35-nation US-led coalition, which has run Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people, has allocated only a quarter of the funds that would have enabled UN aid workers to stop children dying this winter.
This is not an isolated case. Our liberal world order proves that it is neither liberal nor orderly. What also ruined thousands of lives last year was an equally counterproductive failure to vaccinate, test and provide treatment to poor people around the world, resulting in us spawning new varieties of Covid, putting us all at risk.
We are now witnessing an equally shameful and self-justifying failure to prevent hunger. Our unwillingness to act is not just a moral outrage, but real consequences. They could take the form of mass migration to the West, increased heroin production and terrorist recruitment, who will argue that the world’s failure to act proves that coexistence is impossible.
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