Amid concerns that countries are focused inward on the coronavirus outbreak, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has warned that any reduction in foreign aid to Afghanistan will lead to “major setbacks” in public services, economic activity, and living standards.
International aid “is important not only for development but also for peace," Ghani said in a statement on November 24, as representatives from dozens of countries and organizations meet for the second and final day of a donor conference in Geneva for the war-torn nation.
The Geneva conference, held both in-person and online, comes as peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban militants in Qatar have stalled, violence continues to surge across Afghanistan, and U.S. President Donald Trump is reducing U.S. forces in the country by mid-January.
“A political settlement with the Taliban is within reach. But it is difficult to see how peace can be effectively sustained amid deteriorating incomes, declining services, and increasing unemployment,” Ghani said.
The meeting also comes at a time when the Afghan economy is expected to contract by at least 5.5 percent this year, according to the World Bank, because of the coronavirus epidemic that has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in the country.
But Afghanistan risks receiving less funding than it did at the previous donor conference four years ago, officials say, amid donor fatigue nearly 20 years after a U.S.-led international coalition toppled the Taliban and as governments around the world are struggling with their own coronavirus pandemics and economic crises.
In Brussels in 2016, Afghanistan obtained total pledges of $15.2 billion for the 2017-2020 period, equivalent to $3.8 billion a year.
The EU already announced it was maintaining its support of 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) for Afghanistan over the next four years, but that it expects a commitment to democracy and accountability.
Britain, the country's third-largest bilateral donor, said it would pledge $227 million in annual civilian and food aid for Afghanistan -- a slightly higher amount than London pledged at the last donor conference in Brussels.
Addressing the Geneva conference, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an "immediate, unconditional cease-fire" in Afghanistan to create a conducive environment for the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks.
Ghani’s repeated calls for a cease-fire have been rejected by the Taliban.
Guterres said an inclusive peace process, “in which women, young people, and victims of conflict are meaningfully represented, offers the best hope of sustainable peace."
“Progress toward peace will contribute to the development of the entire region, and is a vital step towards the safe, orderly, and dignified return of millions of displaced Afghans," he added.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, also called for an immediate cease-fire, saying such a truce “should not be an outcome of the [peace] process; it should accompany the process from today.”
“Any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate [in Afghanistan] would have an impact on our political and financial engagement," he added.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned on November 23 that the global community risks "disastrous consequences" if it abandons aid to that country and that the future of millions of Afghans depends on the outcome of the peace talks and on international community's commitment to develop the country.
"Failure on either account would see Afghanistan slide backwards with disastrous consequences, including further displacement possibly on a large scale," he warned.
Save the Children joined calls for increased humanitarian funding, citing the “appalling cost” of the decades-long conflict on children in Afghanistan.
The coronavirus pandemic “has added to children’s misery and must be addressed with new funding. But as the humanitarian needs rise higher than ever, it is a struggle to secure the funds needed to help people,” said Chris Nyamandi, the British charity’s Country Director in Afghanistan.
According to UN estimates, 7 million children need urgent help, but the UN’s humanitarian appeal for 2020 is less than half funded.