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The UN says it needs a record-breaking $4.4 billion to help Afghanistan

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The United Nations is trying to rally the world to help Afghanistan, and it says it needs a record amount of money for humanitarian efforts - $4.4 billion. Donors pledged more than half of that amount today, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.N.'s top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, just wrapped up a trip to Afghanistan.

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MARTIN GRIFFITHS: And I must tell you that I saw human suffering during those three days that left me quite speechless.

KELEMEN: He told donors that he saw newborns clinging to life, sharing rundown incubators.

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GRIFFITHS: These babies were emaciated, listless and far too small. And mind you, this is in downtown Kabul. This is not out in the rural areas and the poorer areas of this country.

KELEMEN: Afghanistan was dependent on foreign aid before the Taliban took over last year. Now, with overseas bank accounts frozen and the Taliban facing sanctions, the country's economy has collapsed. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the war in Ukraine has led to skyrocketing food prices, making matters worse.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: This spells catastrophe for most Afghans struggling to feed their families and for our aid operations. Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan.

KELEMEN: Donors announced about $2.4 billion in aid for Afghanistan and neighboring countries. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield made clear that the $200 million she announced will go through the U.N. and won't be controlled by the Taliban.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The people of Afghanistan have our unequivocal support. But the Taliban's ambition to improve its own relations with the international community depends on its conduct.

KELEMEN: She and many others urged the Taliban to let girls go to school. Germany's foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said an Afghan activist recently told her that the Taliban are reversing women's rights.

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ANNALENA BAERBOCK: It's like all the progress we have made was built out of ice. That ice has been put in the sun, and now everything is melting away. That's how she put it.

KELEMEN: U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said he shares these frustrations, but he urged donors not to reduce aid in response. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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