Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. At the High-level Pledging Event on Supporting the Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan held today, Finland pledged to increase its assistance to the country, for example, through the World Food Programme. In his speech, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto, who represented Finland at the meeting, emphasised the equal rights of women and girls.
Below Pekka Marttila from the Unit for Humanitarian Assistance and Policy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Matti Keppo from the Afghanistan Team of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs answer questions concerning the situation in Afghanistan and Finland’s support.
What is the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan now?
“Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a socio-economic collapse. The UN has estimated that Afghanistan will be one of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in 2022. More than 24 million people in Afghanistan, which is well over half of the country’s population, require humanitarian assistance. Women and girls account for 76 per cent of those in need of assistance. Up to 97 per cent of Afghans are at risk of plunging into poverty this year. The UN estimates that the need for assistance is more than EUR 7 billion.”
At the meeting, Finland pledged to provide an additional EUR 3 million in funding for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. What will the funding be used for?
“With this new funding, Finland will support, for example, the World Food Programme (WFP), which provides direct food assistance to people suffering from hunger. This is very important because the food security situation in the country has deteriorated alarmingly. Before the Taliban took over, 14 million people in Afghanistan suffered from food insecurity. Now the number is almost 23 million people. Malnutrition, especially among children, has increased over the past few months. The maternal and child mortality rates are also high. Finland also supports Finnish civil society organisations that provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.”
In the past, it has been difficult to deliver assistance. Is it possible now?
“Efforts to deliver assistance have mostly been successful. What helps is that the organisations we support have worked in Afghanistan for years and they have experience in dealing with the Taliban. It is very important that assistance is distributed in accordance with the principles of humanitarian assistance, which means that assistance should reach all those who need it on an equal basis. Women should get the help they need and women employees of humanitarian organisations should also be allowed to work.”
Finland has also reserved EUR 18 million for cooperation in Afghanistan this year. How is this funding used to help Afghan people?
“The support given to Afghan people is humanitarian, responding to people’s basic needs. Finland’s aim is also to promote the realisation of human rights, especially the rights of women, during this very difficult crisis.
Of the reserved funding, almost EUR 5 million will be used immediately to support the rights and status of women. A total of EUR 2 million will be channelled to the work of UN Women, which works to improve the livelihoods and economic survival of women and girls and to support women human rights defenders as well as shelters and multi-activity centres for women and girls.
A total of EUR 2.6 million will be directed to the international MSI Reproductive Choices organisation, which provides and promotes sexual and reproductive health services and awareness in Afghanistan. Both organisations are Finland’s long-term partners in Afghanistan.
Finland will also continue its cooperation with the British HALO Trust organisation, which specialises in humanitarian mine clearance. In addition to mine clearance, funding will be used to train men and women on the risks of mines and to rehabilitate victims. A total of almost EUR 1 million has been reserved for this purpose in 2022.
As for the rest of the funding, no decisions have been made yet. We are monitoring the situation closely, and we will decide on the use of funding flexibly based on developments in the situation and the country’s needs.”
How has the human rights situation in Afghanistan changed over the past few months? What can we expect?
“Civil and political rights have deteriorated, and freedom of expression and the right to attend public gatherings have been restricted. Women activists, human rights defenders, journalists and former Afghan security officials, for example, have been subject to human rights violations.
The rights of women and girls are refused by introducing gender norms, practices and formal restrictions refusing their rights. In practice, it is not possible for women and girls to move freely, and their access to healthcare, education or employment has declined. Women’s participation in political and economic life has systematically been reduced.
The Taliban announced last week that secondary schools for girls would not reopen with the start of a new academic year — contrary to what they had promised. This was a huge disappointment. In his speech today, Minister for Foreign Affairs Haavisto also stressed that it is crucial for girls and boys to have equal access to education. "Finland believes that Afghanistan cannot afford to exclude half of its population. Not politically or economically,” said Haavisto.”
Does Finland collaborate with the Taliban administration in the delivery of humanitarian assistance?
"Finland’s support will be delivered to Afghanistan in accordance with the current temporary policyLink to an external website through UN actors, other international organisations and civil society organisations. In other words, Finland takes care that the funds will not fall in the hands of or support the Taliban. Finland’s traditional intergovernmental development cooperation with Afghanistan has been suspended since August 2021."