“We got two sacks of flour last spring which we’re still using. After that, we have to have faith that God will help us.”
We too must have faith that God will help Kubra, 57, an Afghan widow, because, it would appear, we, the West, will not.
She told Reuters last week how, with winter setting in, she must find fuel to heat the single room, lined with rice sacks to keep out the cold, where eight members of her family shelter in the central province of Bamiyan.
“The firewood she had collected for the winter was stolen in August as the Taliban swept across the country to Kabul and the US, the UK and their Nato allies abandoned the country with savage suddenness after 20 years of occupation and supposed rebuilding.
It was an abject dereliction of duty, responsibility and compassion and now, out of understandable embarrassment, perhaps, or humiliation, our ministers would rather speak of anything but the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan, day by day, spooling, apparently inevitably, towards one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever witnessed.
They won’t offer aid to the Taliban, of course, not, at least, until the newly-installed government offers assurances on the rights that are, despite all its warm words, being systematically stripped from women, young people and all the others who had found new hope and opportunities over the last two decades.
With no foreign aid and billions of dollars that might ease the country’s perilous situation frozen by sanctions, the United Nations estimates nearly 23 million Afghans – about 55% of the population – face extreme and imminent hunger with nearly nine million at risk of famine.
Charities still on the ground there predict the potentially catastrophic famine could kill more than one million children, more than the total number of Afghans killed during the 20-year occupation.
Of course, Afghanistan’s abandonment by the world’s richest countries has not caused the famine – that would be the climate change caused by the world’s richest countries – but the lack of urgency in the capitals of the West is, in this inter-connected world as more refugees are forced to flee the stricken country, as blithely unthinking as it is shameful.
Rory Stewart, the former minister, who was clearly too expert, too intelligent and too principled to find a berth in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, tells us the West’s humiliated governments are looking for excuses for inaction instead of “acting fast and generously to save lives”.
Well, it cannot go on. We watched in bemusement as allied troops did a moonlit flit from Kabul airport; we watched in horror as the Taliban swept to power; and we should not now be asked to watch in despair as the country we invaded 20 years ago is abandoned to famine and unimaginable loss.
Our governments must pull every lever, make every call, coax, cajole and construct an aid effort capable of easing the suffering of a cataclysmic famine and our own appalling abdication of responsibility.
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