Gordon Brown calls on Liz Truss to help raise funds for Afghanistan

Gordon Brown has written to the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, calling on her to help convene a donor conference to raise $4.5bn (£3.3bn) for Afghanistan as he warned that more than 23 million people were at risk of starvation if aid did not materialise.

The former prime minister said: “We are witnessing a shameful but also self-defeating failure to prevent famine”, adding that the UK should urgently take a lead in resuming the delivery of aid dramatically halted after the Taliban takeover.

Cash was available, said Brown in an article for the Guardian, but donor countries needed confidence they would not be hit by existing international sanctions, which he also argued could be relaxed if the Taliban made genuine progress on the rights of women and girls.

On Tuesday, UN agencies launched a call for $4.5bn in aid for 2022, its biggest ever international appeal. The US responded with a donation of $308m, to be channelled through independent humanitarian organisations.

But Brown said that was not enough. “The 35-country, American-led coalition that ruled Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people has still put up only a quarter of the money that would allow UN humanitarians to stop children dying this winter.”

Britain had planned to cut its Afghan aid spending in 2021, in line with wider cuts to the aid budget, but lifted its commitment to £286m in August, taking the headline total close to the £290m delivered in 2019.

Wealthy countries in the Middle East were ready to commit, he added. “The Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates – have the money and have made offers to provide assistance, but they fear an American backlash. Realistically it will require America to break the logjam and end the cycle of starvation and death.”

Brown said he had written to Truss and to the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, to ask them to host an international donor conference “in January or at the latest in February” to break the impasse.

Afghanistan’s previously aid-dependent economy has been “in freefall”, according to the UN, falling by about 40% since US and Nato forces withdrew last summer. International assistance halted almost overnight once the Taliban took over, while US economic sanctions aimed at the group have further isolated the country.

“The devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect,” Brown wrote. The UN’s humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths, Brown wrote, “forecasts that if we do not act, 97% of Afghans will soon be living below the poverty line”.

About 90% of the country’s clinics “do not have the funds to keep themselves open” while the Covid crisis continues, the former prime minister said. Only 11% of Afghanistan’s population of approximately 40 million have been vaccinated.

“Aid workers now find children huddled together under threadbare blankets in temporary camps and hovels or lying wrapped in their mothers’ burqas outside hospitals waiting for treatment that is now simply not available,” Brown added.


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