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US, UN warn Taliban ban on female NGO staff could disrupt aid delivery

US has warned that a Taliban order for women to be barred from working for NGOs would disrupt aid delivery and could be “devastating” for Afghanistan.

“Deeply concerned that the Taliban’s ban on women delivering humanitarian aid in Afghanistan will disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Saturday.

“This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Taliban ordered all local and foreign non-governmental organisations to stop female employees from coming to work.

Before it, the Taliban-run administration ordered universities to close to women, prompting strong global condemnation and sparking some protests and heavy criticism inside Afghanistan.

READ MORE: Afghanistan’s Taliban orders NGOs to ban women employees

‘UN activities would be impacted’

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan and humanitarian coordinator, told the Reuters news agency that although the United Nations had not received the order, most of its activities were carried out by NGOs it contracts and would be heavily impacted.

“Many of our programmes will be affected and we won’t be able to implement them because, unless we have participation of female staff in the assessment of humanitarian need, in identification of beneficiaries, in providing the aid and distributing the aid, then we will not be able to implement them,” he said.

International aid agency AfghanAid said it was immediately suspending its operations while it consulted with other organisations, and that other NGOs in the country were taking similar actions.

The potential endangerment of aid programmes accessed by millions of Afghans comes at a time when more than half the population relies on humanitarian aid, according to aid agencies, and during the mountainous nation’s coldest season.

“There’s never a right time for anything like this … but this particular time is very unfortunate because during winter time people are most in need and Afghan winters are very harsh,” said Alakbarov.

He said his office would consult with NGOs and UN agencies on Sunday and would seek to meet with Taliban authorities for an explanation.

Aid workers say that female workers are essential in a country where rules and cultural customs largely prevent aid being delivered by male workers to female beneficiaries.

“An important principle of delivery of humanitarian aid is the ability of women to participate independently and in an unimpeded way in its distribution so if we can’t do it in a principled way then no donors will be funding any programmes like that,” Alakbarov said.

READ MORE: Afghan women protest in Kabul against Taliban’s university ban

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