The United Nations said Thursday it is asking for a record $4.4 billion for assistance for millions of Afghans who need food, shelter, medical care, and other essentials, its biggest-ever appeal.

With more than 24 million Afghans, 60% of the population, needing humanitarian assistance, the United Nations calls Afghanistan one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief and emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, has been in Kabul for several days.  He says the lives of tens of millions of people are hanging by a thread.  He says he visited a children’s hospital soon after he arrived and was deeply shaken by what he saw.

“Tiny, listless newborn babies. Two to an incubator, suffering from acute, and sometimes severe, acute malnutrition. A mother caring for her severely malnourished baby after having already lost two children before,” Griffiths said.

Since the Taliban takeover in August, Afghanistan’s economy has gone into freefall. Billions of dollars in international aid have dried up, leading to the collapse of government services. People with no access to work have been forced to take out loans to survive, leading to a debt spike.

In addition, Afghanistan is suffering from its worst drought in 30 years.  

The U.N. is urgently appealing to international donors for support for the Afghan people. This is a hard sell, though, as few countries have confidence in the intention of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s de facto rulers. This trust was recently tested when the Taliban reversed its pledge to allow girls a secondary school education.

Qatar is a co-host of Thursday’s pledging conference and long-time facilitator in the political and humanitarian affairs of the people of Afghanistan. Adviser to Qatar’s deputy prime minister Majed Mohammed Al-Ansari says his government condemns the Taliban decision and hopes it will reconsider that position very soon.

“We have stressed that this decision will have ramifications on the human rights of Afghani people and on the economy of Afghanistan. And we stressed the importance of talking to the Taliban government and making it very clear to them that this is unacceptable, and it needs to be settled as soon as possible,” Al-Ansari said.

U.N. officials urge donors to swallow their political differences with the Taliban.  They say the core of the pledging conference is to save lives and to give Afghans hope for the future.

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