The UN’s head said that almost all Afghans don’t have enough food and some people have sold their children and body parts to make money.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, made the statement as part of a dramatic appeal by the world body and several wealthy countries to help the beleaguered Afghans whose fate has worsened after the Taliban returned to power last January.

Guterres launched a virtual conference to pledge support for the U.N.’s largest-ever funding drive for one country, $4.4 billion. It was supported by Germany, Qatar and Britain.

This is an ambitious goal, especially when the focus is on Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some wealthy countries have frozen almost $9 billion worth of assets in Afghanistan overseas to prevent the Taliban from accessing them.

Recent weeks have seen senior U.N. officials visit Afghanistan. They even met with top Taliban officials to assure them that the country is not forgotten. According to the U.N., Afghanistan is in a severe humanitarian crisis that has led to a collapse of its economy and resulting in acute food insecurity for 23 million people.

Guterres called on the world to “spare” Afghans who have had their rights stripped — like many women and girls — after the Taliban’s ouster of the country’s internationally-backed government last summer. In the hope of encouraging reforms, rich nations have attempted to put financial pressure on the Taliban.

The U.N. chief stated that “wealthy and powerful countries cannot ignore their consequences for their decisions on the most vulnerable.” “Some 95% people don’t have enough food, and 9,000,000 people are at risk from famine,” he said, citing UNICEF estimates of over a million children severely malnourished “are on the brink of death” if they do not take immediate action.

He stated, “Without immediate actions we face a hunger and malnutrition crisis” in Afghanistan. “People are selling their children and body parts to feed their families,” he said.

Many girls in rural Afghanistan, especially those living among the poorest, are married at puberty. Sometimes, their families also receive a dowry. Although aid groups have seen a few instances of desperate parents selling their children, such practices are not widespread.

The U.N. was working to secure pledges. Liz Truss, British Foreign Secretary, stated that Britain will continue its 286 million pound ($380 million) support for the year 2021. German Foreign Minister Annalena Bärbock stated that her country has contributed 200 million euros ($220 millions). Qatar claimed it has contributed $50 million over the past months and promised another $25 million by 2022.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the U.S. ambassador at the United Nations. She stated that the United States had announced almost $204 million in humanitarian aid funding for Afghanistan.

Thomas-Greenfield stated that humanitarian aid will be sent directly to NGOs and UN agencies, just like any aid from the United States. “The Taliban won’t control our humanitarian funding.”

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that $2.4 billion had been pledged by 41 countries on Thursday. Donors might choose to send some money to Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries. This means that not all pledges are counted towards Afghanistan’s $4.4 billion appeal.

In the meantime, eleven U.S. senators released a joint statement encouraging the Biden administration’s encouragement to international donors to support the U.N. needs. All senators were Democrats and spoke out about the many humanitarian crises in which money is scarce.

They wrote that “Amid crises such as those in Yemen, Ukraine and Syria, the international community should not lose sight of Afghanistan.”

On Thursday, Kabul saw the complexities of helping Afghans and not rewarding the Taliban come into focus. Leaders of the militant group raised the largest white flag above Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan hill. One leader even taunted the U.S.-led coalition forces that departed the country last year.

Abdul Salam Hanafi (Deputy Prime Minister of the interim Taliban Government) stated that “Because the rule of these flags, because of rule of the monotheistic name, thousands of brave boys of this nation placed bombs in their chests [suicide vests] and drove the occupiers from this homeland.”

There are deep divisions within the Taliban leadership about the group’s rigid rule. They are also seeking to be more involved with the international community.

Taliban hardliners have been issuing repressive orders almost every day since a meeting of the leaders in Kandahar, the southern city, in March. These edicts are reminiscent of their brutal rule in the late 1990s. These edicts have angered many Afghans and further alienated an already wary international community.

These decrees prohibit women from flying alone, ban women from going to parks on certain days, and require male workers to wear a beard or traditional turban. Foreign TV series and international media broadcasts such as the BBC’s Persian or Pashto services, have been removed from the air.

Many Afghans and the international community were shocked by a sudden ban that prevented girls from returning to school after sixth grade. Girls returned to school in schools all over the country on March 23, the first day of the new Afghan school years, only to be sent home.

Baerbock, a German journalist, stated that it broke her heart to see these images of girls crying in front their schools. She added that the plight of Afghan girls was a stark illustration of the suffering of Afghan people.

The Afghan situation has gotten worse due to the worst drought in many years and the skyrocketing food prices caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine, which is a major European breadbasket.

Martin Griffiths, OCHA’s head, stated that Ukraine is vitally important, but Afghanistan, as you know, requires our commitment and loyalty. This was before Thursday’s pledge drive. “In simple words, the humanitarian program we are appealing to is to save lives.”

Thursday’s appeal is three times the amount that the U.N. had requested for Afghanistan one year ago. This request was not met once donors realized the magnitude of the Afghan needs after the Taliban tookover.

While many donor countries seek to aid beleaguered Afghans, they tend to ignore the Taliban. However, the U.N. agency recommended that foreign political and economic engagement should return someday.

Griffiths stated that it was vital for the international community and the Taliban to have a long-term dialogue on other issues than humanitarian. “Humanitarian assistance cannot replace other forms of engagement,” Griffiths said.