U.N. convening donor meeting on Afghanistan as concerns mount

GENEVA, March 30 (Reuters) – Britain on Wednesday pledged 286 million pounds ($374 million) for life-saving food and other aid in Afghanistan, a day ahead of an international conference seeking $4.4 billion, even as concerns mount over Taliban rule.

The U.N. humanitarian appeal, the largest ever launched for a single country, is only 13% funded, U.N. spokesperson Jens Laerke said ahead of Thursday’s pledging conference.

Funds go directly to aid agencies implementing projects on the ground and none is channelled through the de facto authorities, who took power in August, he said.

The virtual conference from Geneva, to be opened by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, coincides with concerns over the Islamist rulers backtracking last week on their announcement that secondary schools would open for girls.

Roughly 23 million people are experiencing acute hunger and 95% of Afghans are not eating enough, while 10 million children are in urgent need of aid to survive, according to the United Nations, which will co-host the talks with Britain, Germany and Qatar.

“The UK is rallying countries in support of the Afghan people and helping lead the way in providing life-sustaining food, shelter and medical supplies. Together with allies and partners, we can do more and will do more to help Afghanistan,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said while announcing the pledge that matches its latest annual disbursement.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, called for donor support saying the meeting was an opportunity to “show we stand with Afghanistan in these dark hours”.

“Many families are forced to skip meals and can’t afford basic health or education expenses,” he said in a statement.

The United States abruptly cancelled meetings with the Taliban in Doha that were set to address key economic issues, officials said last Friday, after the Taliban reversed the decision on girls returning to high school classes.

The cancellation was the first concrete sign that recent Taliban moves on human rights and inclusivity could directly impact the international community’s willingness to help the group, some of whose leaders are under U.S. sanctions.

($1 = 0.7649 pounds)

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Mark Potter and Tomasz Janowski
U.N. convening donor meeting on Afghanistan as concerns mount