Post-Taliban Donor Dropout Puts Hundreds Of Afghan Health Centers At Risk

On September 6th, a World Health Organization official said that hundreds of medical facilities in Afghanistan risk imminent closure. In an interview with Reuters, Regional Emergency Director Rick Brennan said that the western donors which financed these medical facilities had regulations barring them from dealing with the Taliban government. Brennan provided no additional details, but predicted that up to 90% of Afghanistan’s 2,300 hospitals would close within a week of the closure announcement.

Afghanistan faces “an imminent humanitarian catastrophe,” W.H.O. Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned. He and W.H.O. Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari released a joint statement about Afghanistan’s exponentially worsening crisis, observing, “[C]uts in donor support to [Sehatmandi, Afghanistan’s] largest health project… left thousands of health facilities without funding for medical supplies and salaries” for staff. Starvation is rampant; a U.N. Food Program report found that only 5% of Afghan households have enough food for daily consumption. Additionally, the W.H.O. reported that fewer than one in five Sehatmandi facilities are currently open. 

Tedros noted that without donors’ funding, many health facilities “have now reduced operations or shut down, forcing health providers to make decisions on who to save and who to let die.” Rick Brennan also told Reuters that the W.H.O. attempted to provide supplies equipment and financing to 500 health centers. Although the organization liaised with Qatar to deliver medical supplies by plane, chaos at the Kabul airport made getting the goods to Afghanistan a struggle. 

On September 13th, the U.N. held an emergency financial appeal meeting to raise humanitarian aid funds for Afghanistan and gathered over one billion dollars. Still, according to the U.S. News and World Report, officials indicated that future aid could be affected by how the Taliban rule. These sentiments are likely intended to communicate that the Taliban’s past and continued human rights violations are unacceptable. Nonetheless, U.N. Chief António Guterres implored western donors to continue dialogue with the Taliban. World leaders should stay focused on providing aid to the millions of innocent civilians suffering from starvation and improving health facility conditions so providers are not forced to decide “who to save and who to let die.”

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when United States forces usurped them following the 9/11 attacks. Before their overthrow, the Taliban practiced a strict interpretation of Sharia, Islamic religious law. The group banned women from going to work or school, suppressed dissent, and publicly flogged people who violated their code of morality. Many civilians fear a return to these conditions. Due to the atrocities the Taliban committed, even after losing power, world leaders are understandably reluctant to acknowledge their authority. About two dozen Afghan diplomats have also requested that these powers continue not to do so, as acknowledging the Taliban would “validate their suppressive regime.”

Tedros’s recommendation to continue dialogue with the Taliban is pragmatic. Western donors should consider that communication with the Taliban need not imply recognition of their authority or acceptance of their human rights violations. The Taliban, in turn, must accept that receiving international recognition will require amending their practices. Substantial compromise from both parties is needed to successfully provide food and healthcare to the millions of people throughout Afghanistan who lack such necessities.