Donors have pledged more than $1.1 billion to help Afghanistan, where poverty and hunger have spiraled since the Taliban took power, and foreign aid has dried up, raising the specter of a mass exodus.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking halfway through a UN conference seeking $606 million to meet Afghanistan’s most pressing needs, said it was too early to say how much had been promised in response to the appeal.

After decades of war and suffering, Afghans are facing “maybe their most dangerous hour”, he said.

“Individuals of Afghanistan are confronting the breakdown of a whole country at the same time.” He said food could run out by the end of this month, and the World Food Programme said 14 million individuals were on the brink of starvation.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan as per their severe interpretation of Islamic law from 1996-2001 and were overturned in a United States-led invasion, which accused them of protecting assailants behind the Sept 11 assaults.

They swept back to power last month in a lightning advance as the last US-led NATO troops pulled out and the powers of the Western-supported government melted away.

Due to Western antipathy and distrust towards the Taliban, billions of dollars of aid flows abruptly ending, donors had a “moral obligation” to continue helping Afghans following a 20-year commitment several speakers in Geneva said.

Neighbors China and Pakistan had already offered assistance.

However, UN basic freedoms boss Michelle Bachelet, in Geneva, underlined the Western misgivings. She blamed the Taliban for breaking recent pledges by again requesting women to remain at home instead of going to work, keeping teenage girls out of school, and oppressing previous rivals.

Beijing last week promised $31 million worth of food and supplies, and on Friday said it would send a first batch of 3 million Covid antibodies. Pakistan sent food and medication, and it called for Afghan resources frozen abroad to be released. Iran said it had dispatched an air cargo of aid.

“Past mistakes must not be repeated. The Afghan people must not be abandoned,” said Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose nation has close relations with the Taliban and would most likely bear the brunt of an exodus of refugees.

Both China and Russia said the main burden of assisting Afghanistan out of crises should lie with Western countries.

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