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The Urgent Needs Aid Groups Are Prioritizing In Afghanistan

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to go back now to another major story we've been following - the situation in Afghanistan. As you might imagine, given the chaos and violence around the fall of the previous government and the Taliban takeover, some humanitarian and aid organizations have suspended operations. But many are still in the country trying to deliver critical food aid and medical care. Last week, the United Nations said there was an urgent need for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. And the NGOs and aid organizations who have remained are trying to figure out how to continue their missions under Taliban rule.

The Alliance for Peacebuilding is a network of development organizations doing humanitarian work in 153 countries around the world, including Afghanistan. Liz Hume is the group's acting president and CEO. And she's with us now to tell us more. Liz Hume, welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.

LIZ HUME: Thank you.

MARTIN: I'm not sure people know this, but just to remind, Afghanistan is heavily aid dependent. Like some 40% of the country's GDP is drawn from foreign funding. So what's your sense of the most urgent needs that foreign aid groups are addressing in Afghanistan right now?

HUME: It's really that immediate crisis, that immediate health, food. The government workers haven't been going to work. And the U.N. has put out an appeal for $1.3 billion. And only about 39% of it countries have pledged. But after that, it's going to be really critical that development programs are also allowed to continue. Education, water - this is just sort of that beginning piece of it.

MARTIN: The United Nations said specifically that there is a need for enhanced humanitarian assistance.

HUME: Mmm hmm.

MARTIN: What does that mean?

HUME: It means as the government has collapsed, services have broken down. Shops have closed. You haven't been able to get aid in. The U.N. was just able to get in a big shipment of food in Mazar. You know, just think about it even here in the United States when COVID hit us. You saw groceries not being able to get to the grocery store. We had our pipeline issue a few months ago. You couldn't get gasoline on the East Coast. So think about in a country where things work and you have one breakdown in the system, now multiply that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times over.

MARTIN: A lot of women had been working in these organizations...

HUME: Mmm hmm.

MARTIN: ...Right? And so...

HUME: That's right.

MARTIN: ...A lot of women, for their own safety, have been staying home. On the other hand, the Taliban have sent mixed messages. On the one hand, they say that women are welcome to continue to work in some of these spaces under Islamic rule. But are the Taliban actually allowing some of this work to go forward?

HUME: It's going to be different in every single province. The Taliban are not one monolith. So, you know, you're going to get these conflicting stories coming out from all different regions. There's a lot we don't know right now. But this isn't new for aid organizations, development organizations, organizations that are doing conflict prevention work. They do this work all over the world - in Yemen, in Somalia. But the evacuation just ended. And for the last few weeks, the focus has really been on getting staff out that was most at risk and also trying to wade through the legal requirements to see what could still continue. And the situation is evolving. And it's going to be a day by day.

MARTIN: I want to ask how you see this playing out. I mean, you can see that there are a lot of those who want to isolate the Taliban. They feel that any cooperation with the regime strengthens the regime. On the other hand, there is concern that international sanctions could harm people, that people will literally starve. They will go without medical care and/or leave humanitarian workers even more vulnerable. Is there a best-case scenario you have in your mind right now?

HUME: Well, I don't know about best-case scenario. But we can't abandon the people of Afghanistan. And not everybody is Taliban. They might have to say they are to work. And I - when I was out in Afghanistan, not long after 9/11, I knew many former Taliban. So these are people that are just like you and me. You know, they have children. They want them to go to school. They want their children to be safe. They want their children to grow up.

And we have worked there for so long - and there have been many gains - that we cannot watch people starve and people die. We also have to make sure that education programs continue. And again, we do this all over the world. We work in countries and regions where there are governments that are authoritarian. And we work there. It's the right thing to do to not abandon people. And when you have these spaces, that's where you create more violent extremists and create security issues for the region and for the world.

MARTIN: That's Liz Hume. She's the acting president and CEO at the Alliance for Peacebuilding. We reached her in Falls Church, Va. Liz Hume, thank you so much for talking to us.

HUME: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENE AUBRY'S "LA GRANDE CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.