WHO says it has enough medical supplies in Afghanistan for a week; EU pledges aid boost

Deliveries of more than 500 tonnes of medical supplies have been held up because of restrictions at Kabul airport. PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (REUTERS) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) has enough supplies in Afghanistan to last for only a week after deliveries of medical equipment from abroad were blocked by restrictions at Kabul airport, a senior regional official said on Tuesday (Aug 24).

The comments come as the EU announced a ramped-up Afghan aid programme that an official said it would seek safety guarantees on the ground and coordination with the United Nations to deliver, as the bloc's executive and G-7 leaders prepare to discuss the crisis in the country.

The UN agency was also concerned the current upheaval in Afghanistan could lead to a spike in Covid-19 infections, officials from the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean office said.

Afghanistan reported more than 152,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 7,000 deaths as at Monday, the WHO said. However, there has been a decline in testing due to the security situation, with test rates last week declining by 77 per cent in public and private laboratories, compared to the week before.

That meant there was under-reporting of Covid-19 cases, the WHO said.

The WHO officials, who spoke during an online briefing, said 95 per cent of health facilities in Afghanistan remained operational but that some female staff had not returned to their posts and some female patients had become afraid to leave their homes.

Deliveries of more than 500 tonnes of medical supplies including surgical equipment and severe malnutrition kits have been held up because of restrictions at Kabul airport, the WHO says.

Separately, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday called for the international community to donate US$200 million (S$271 million) in food aid for Afghanistan so essential supplies can be delivered to remote regions before winter.

"WFP is warning that a humanitarian catastrophe awaits the people of Afghanistan this winter unless the international community makes their lives a priority," Ms Anthea Webb, WFP deputy regional director for Asia and Pacific, told a UN briefing.

"Once the snow sets in, it is simply too late."

Ms Webb said the WFP needs to get supplies through mountain passages before they are blocked by snow.

"Any further delay could be deadly," she said.

She added that countries nervous about a possible exodus of people from Afghanistan after the Taleban took control should back relief missions supporting those who stay in the country.

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union would increase its support for Afghans still in the country and those fleeing it to over 200 million euros (S$319 million) from over 50 million euros.

Delivering aid had become more complicated since the Taleban took back control of the country, according EU officials, and so coordination with the United Nations over its distribution would be critical for reaching the most vulnerable, especially women and girls.

"We will need very clear assurances that safe access to affected communities, safe movement of humanitarian staff ... is provided," one EU official said, noting that the staff included female employees.

The ramped-up aid would come "on top of member states' contributions to help the people of Afghanistan," von der Leyen said on Twitter, adding that she would announce the additional support at Tuesday's summit.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.