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Science & Medicine

Aid Official Warns Of A Bleak Situation In Afghanistan As Winter Approaches

Girls gather at a gender-segregated school in Kabul on Sept. 15. When older secondary students returned to classes, female students were told to wait.
Girls gather at a gender-segregated school in Kabul on Sept. 15. When older secondary students returned to classes, female students were told to wait.

When schools reopened recently in Afghanistan, only boys in grades 7 through 12 went back to class.

Taliban leaders told girls that they must wait.

"The explanation that we got from the Taliban is that this is just a slight delay, as they are working on operating procedures for girls," said Christopher Nyamandi, director of Save the Children, an aid group, in Afghanistan.

A return to severe restrictions on education for girls is just one of many aspects of children's welfare under the Taliban that worries Nyamandi, who spoke with NPR's Leila Fadel from Kabul.

"The situation is bleak, really," Nyamandi said. "It's not uncommon in Afghanistan for children to freeze to death during harshest of winters. And if we do not have humanitarian supplies — especially for those families that are in displacement, that are living in camps — we are going to see serious casualties, including deaths, happening."

Interview Highlights

On whether he trusts the Taliban will allow girls to access education

What my team told me is that it is hard for them to trust what the Taliban says because there have been a number of broken promises already. However, you know — for the past 20 years, there has been a huge increase of the number of girls in school. So I think it's going to be very hard for the Taliban to unroll all that progress.

On how Save the Children has been operating under Taliban rule

We have been able to reopen right now in Kandahar, in Kabul, in Jawzjan — which is a province in the north. We had to go through a negotiation process where we were explaining our activities. The Taliban has made it clear to us that they would like to see segregation of offices where our female staff have their own office space. And we are making those adjustments. But we've insisted that at least our female staff should come to the office — and they should also be allowed to go to the field. ...

So we see in provinces where local Taliban officials are being flexible. But we have also seen in some provinces where they are insisting women would not be allowed to work. And we would not be prepared to reopen our offices if our female staff cannot work, simply because as an organization that is trying to reach children, we are unable to reach children if we do not have female staff who will talk to women in the communities.

So, whereas at the central level we have been receiving assurances — we are being told that we would like to see international organizations staying, including international staff — we are still concerned that we still see restrictions in some of the provinces.

On the prospect of humanitarian aid arriving before winter

People needed assistance even before the Taliban took over. And then there was the violence that happened — and hundreds of thousands of families ended up being displaced, running away from their homes because of the insecurity. And now they do not have shelter. They are living out in the open, under plastic sheets. So children need assistance.

Because of the donor funding that has been frozen, we do not have access to cash at this point. We are not able to withdraw money from the banking system. So it's becoming difficult to run our operations.

Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted this story for the web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.