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Australia must match other nations on Afghanistan aid to save lives 

Australia should at least match comparable nations for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to help avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe” – as nearly a million children face starvation.

Additional humanitarian funding from the Australian Government could also help prevent even more Afghans leaving the beleaguered nation on dangerous journeys, as desperation grows and avenues for a safe and dignified exit remain elusive.

These are the views of Ahmad Shuja Jamal, a former high-ranking Afghan civil servant, now a special advisor on Afghanistan with the Refugee Council of Australia, describing what the World Food Programme has called “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”.

Mr Jamal, previously director-general for international relations and regional cooperation at the Afghan National Security Council, said the Australian Government has another opportunity to step up and make a real difference to the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan by donating to the UN’s new humanitarian appeal launched last week. Australia lagged well behind smaller nations and also other wealthy countries, including Sweden, Denmark and Canada, for contributions to the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan 2021.

“The $12 million that Australia pledged for the last UN Humanitarian Response Plan is less than 1/3 of Denmark’s pledge of $40 million,” Mr Jamal said. “And it’s only about half that of Sweden’s contribution of $23 million.”

Nearly a million children are estimated by the UN to be facing death due to cold and hunger this winter. And those kids are among 23 million Afghans facing food shortages. This is right now the worst humanitarian situation in the world, no question about it.

“I know the Australian people would want their Government to be more generous to people in dire situations such as this one, to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Mr Jamal said an inadequate humanitarian response would also force millions of Afghans facing starvation to consider dangerous journeys out of the country, even as 3.5 million people are already displaced from their homes inside Afghanistan.

The UN Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022 was launched on January 11 and appeals for over US$5 billion in humanitarian funding. Australian leadership could help fill the humanitarian gap, he said.

“Australia should be giving more, not only because this will directly help save lives in Afghanistan, but also because Australia’s actions could encourage other nations to contribute more and help stave off avoidable suffering, death and displacement,” he said.

“Australia has the opportunity to show commendable global leadership, but at the same time, its stature as a positive contributor to the global community risks eroding if it shirks away from the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world.

“This is an opportunity for Australia to reassess its existing pledge, which was made in September 2021, a time when both the mechanisms for aid delivery and the scope of the need in Afghanistan were less clear.”

He said now that the UN Security Council has authorised a humanitarian exception to sanctions against the Taliban, the UN has emerged as the main mechanism for aid delivery and the real scope of humanitarian need has become clear, it is time for Australia to reassess its commitment and demonstrate leadership.

“But Australia has to act immediately, given the Afghanistan winter is now in full swing and already well over 150,000 people are applying for only 3000 humanitarian visas available in Australia,” he said. “We can still do a lot to stop this catastrophe becoming much worse than it already is. But we have to act now.”

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