Transcript of Statement by the Acting Minister of Finance; Mohmmad Khalid Payenda
Toran is a refugee from Maiwand, in Kandahar. He was interviewed in front of his makeshift tent. Listen to what he said:
“Now I have reached here, where I have nothing. Here there is no firing, no war, but right now there is an intense war in my hometown. I was working on my land. I was cultivating wheat. I came to this desert, but can we stay and live on these sands? On this camp floor where we are sitting now, people are dying of hunger.”
And another Afghan voice speaks up:
“The drought has destroyed my land. It has drained the water. We can’t get enough water to drink or to clean ourselves. We fled our homes because there is no water. I won’t remember a season as terrible as this. Farming is my only income and I have ten children at home.”
My friends, distinguished guests,
Are there words that can convey the tragedy of Afghanistan today? Ordinary people, hardworking people, people who want to tend to their land and raise their children, face a drought that rips them from their homes and steals their food. It steals their futures.
When I first saw the numbers of how many people this drought would affect, l could not believe my eyes. Twelve million people. One-third of our country. Three times the entire population of Kabul. Twelve million ruined
farmers. Twelve million families whose children will not have enough to eat. Twelve million people whose lives now depend on the kindness of strangers.
I am the Minister of Finance, but this Appeal is not from my Ministry. It is not even from the government. It is from all of Afghanistan. It is an appeal to humanity to show that by working together we can save twelve million fellow human beings from hunger and destitution.
We have a very small window of opportunity to cushion the worst effects of this drought – but only if we act now. We can feed people who have no food. We can keep their children in school. We can help prevent women and girls from being trafficked by desperate families. This can be done.
Today we launch an Appeal to prevent a tragedy. It is an appeal to our shared responsibility. Afghanistan did not start this war that has bled our country for forty years. We have contributed nothing to the global climate change that drives drought. As in other parts of the world, poor people’s coping strategies are no longer enough when it is the weather itself that has changed. We will do our part to protect our people to the best of our ability, but the obligation to support them is shared.
And let us not forget that while this is a tragedy made in part by the weather, it is in equal measure a tragedy made by man. The drought is real, and it is severe. But as terrible as this drought will be, the Taliban’s heartless offensive is making its effects infinitely worse. Farms are being abandoned. People who could be harvesting crops to tide themselves over cannot even visit their fields or repair their canals. Frightened children tell stories of their family livestock being deliberately slaughtered and their granaries burned. Once again, wherever the Taliban go, women who herded goats and tended gardens for food can no longer leave their house.
So please let us at least be clear, at least among ourselves. This is no ordinary drought-driven crisis. It is a tragedy that was created when the Taliban abandoned the peace process and instead declared war on our people. If this year’s bitter harvest is going to be hunger and displacement, let us not pretend that the fault lies only with the weather. It is the product of war.
For the past several months, our teams from the ministries have worked closely with the humanitarian community to assess the drought and build the strategy for averting disaster. Collaboration has been close, and constructive. We have been as conservative and pragmatic as possible in our estimates not just of needs, but also of the ability to deliver. The Humanitarian Appeal being launched today has the government’s full support and endorsement.
However, we – both the UN and our government – recognize that if we only provide humanitarian relief, we can quickly set in play a long cycle of displacement and dependency. Afghanistan today is still dotted with IDP camps where people displaced two decades ago are locked in limbo: still unable to return home to restart ruined farms. Fed and sheltered by the world’s generous donations, they survive in settlements that are neither here nor there, an entire generation lost to the country. Unless something is done, this cycle will repeat. The number of internally displaced people – IDPs – has already started to rise.
To limit displacement and find enduring solutions to climate change driven drought, the UN and government plan abolishes the boundary between humanitarian relief and development-driven recovery. We need to build resilience. A core principle of the Appeal is to keep people in their communities, to provide immediate short-term jobs; rehabilitate critical infrastructure so communities can better cope with the impacts of climate crises; and strengthen the provision of frontline healthcare, especially for mothers and children. Where people are not already displaced by the conflict, this is a feasible objective.
To achieve this goal, the Government and UN have developed a strategy that plays to each partner’s comparative advantage. The government will fully participate in the Humanitarian Response Plan through our First Vice President’s leadership and direct engagement with the Humanitarian Clusters through Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) , and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) . On the ground, much of this work will be led by our humanitarian partners, under the leadership of the UN.
But to complement the humanitarian effort, the Afghan Government will mobilize and fund four of its largest and most successful national priority programs – our programs for health, for community development, for education,
and for water. Each of these programs already has broad coverage in the drought provinces and we will be scaling those up, including further work on seed and livestock distribution so that farmers can quickly get back to farming. While the needs assessment is still underway, the current budget estimate for the government’s support for these programs that will be critical complements to the UN’s humanitarian work will total $150 to $200 million. As many of you know, each of these national programs has a long history of successful implementation in Afghanistan, including special measures to ensure the participation of women and girls. We welcome your review and support for them. There is quite literally no other way to get these services to such a large number of affected communities. We will also look to our ARTF partners to help us offset some of these costs, some by savings and re-allocations, some by encouraging new contributions to the ARTF in recognition of its unmatchable role in paving the way for Afghanistan’s recovery from the drought.
As the Minister of Finance, it is my duty to talk about money. We do not have enough. The Humanitarian Appeal is not even 50% funded. And we all know that the global COVID pandemic has made international assistance and humanitarian support even scarcer.
From our side, we are trying our best to raise funds. I will be making a special Afghan appeal to the wealthy Afghan and diaspora communities to help their countrymen. And we have already started a dialogue with our development partners to help those four national priority programs scale up quickly across the drought provinces. Even as we speak, my team and the President are going through the budget to make sure that all non-security spending is directed towards the people, including support for the drought. But this will still not be enough, in a context where, as you all know, our budget is deeply strained by the war.
We need to act urgently and effectively. We must combine the strengths of our government systems with the strengths of our humanitarian partners. Together, we can help protect the lives of those 12 million people who are at risk today. But it is also not just about the lives we can save now. The impact of a drought of this scale is intergenerational. Its aftershocks will be felt not just in Afghanistan, but globally. Every toddler that becomes stunted, every mother that dies from hunger, every family that is forced to flee their home, every child forced to miss school – these are all families whose future hang in peril for
generations to come. Compounded with the challenges of conflict, war, and insecurity, inaction against this drought will not only devastate Afghanistan’s future, but its long-term impact will reverberate regionally and even globally.
We thank you for your attention and support.