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'People of Afghanistan need a lifeline', says UN chief as donor countries pledge millions

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By Euronews with AP
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Displaced Afghans distribute food donations at an internally displaced persons camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.
Displaced Afghans distribute food donations at an internally displaced persons camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
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The United Nations on Monday drummed up millions of dollars in emergency funds from donor countries for beleaguered Afghans who could soon face widespread hunger, even as Western governments and the UN human rights chief voiced concerns about the Taliban’s first steps in establishing power in Afghanistan.

"The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference.

He said one in three Afghans did not know where their next meal will come from, the poverty rate was “spiraling” and basic public services were nearing collapse.

Guterres noted that a severe drought was jeopardising the upcoming harvest, and hunger has been rising.

The UN chief was leading the world body's call for more than $600 million (€508 million) for the rest of this year in a "flash appeal" for Afghans after their country's government was toppled by the Taliban and U.S. and NATO forces exited the 20-year war in a chaotic departure.

There are concerns that instability and upended humanitarian efforts, compounded by an ongoing drought, could further endanger lives and plunge Afghanistan toward famine.

The UN's World Food Program is to be a major beneficiary of funds collected during Monday's conference.

Plea for rights of women workers

Coinciding with the conference in Geneva, the head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, made a previously unannounced visit to Kabul. He wrote on Twitter that he would assess humanitarian needs and the situation of 3.5 million displaced Afghans — including over 500,000 who have been displaced this year alone.

Responding to complaints Euronews has heard from Afghan people that the international community is now absence, he said the UN's agencies were still working in the capital and the provinces.

"We've never left. We evacuated a few people to keep numbers manageable for security reasons, but people are already coming back, even those evacuated," he told Euronews' international correspondent Anelise Borges in Kabul.

Grandi said that during a meeting with a Taliban minister he had stressed the importance of allowing women working with the UN and NGOs to continue to do so.

"I said it would be so important that you not only say this to me that you agree -- because he said that -- but that you say it publicly, that you send a public message of reassurance. I think it would be powerful, because it would encourage women in particular to return to work, and their role in the delivery of assistance is absolutely fundamental," he added.

Officials at UNHCR have expressed concerns that some people could try to seek refuge in what have been traditional havens for fleeing Afghans in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, which both have large populations of Afghans who had fled their country earlier to escape war and violence.

View Anelise Borges' interview with Filippo Grandi in the video player above.