“As a foreign correspondent for the past 35 years, I have seen too much famine, disease and death. But I have never seen anything of this magnitude.” The words of The Sunday Times’ Christina Lamb help to put the misery being heaped upon the people of Afghanistan into some sort of perspective.

Economic collapse following the Taliban takeover in August has combined with the worst drought in a quarter of a century to produce a humanitarian crisis that risks becoming a catastrophe. According to the UN, 23 million people – half the population – face starvation in the coming months. The figure dwarfs the upwards of 176,000 Afghans killed in the last 20 years of war.  

Until August, foreign aid represented 75 per cent of the country’s budget. This stopped overnight when the Taliban took power. The US has frozen $9.1bn of Afghan government assets. The currency’s value has halved, crippling a country that relies on imports. Aid is dribbling into Afghanistan, but on nowhere near the scale required.

The international community, particularly the US, wants to avoid funding the Taliban by easing sanctions and channelling money to a regime no more palatable than it was in 2001.

But the lesser of the two evils is becoming impossible to ignore. Ninety-seven per cent of Afghans are now living in poverty. Parents are being forced to sell their children to buy food.

Tufail Hussain, the director of Islamic Relief UK who is on the ground in Afghanistan, says: “Children are becoming adults very quickly here. Many as young as five are forced to beg for 12 hours a day, while others collect plastic rubbish to sell on the streets for reuse or recycling, making the equivalent of 40p a day – just to earn money to help their families survive.”

The Taliban is, at heart, the same barbaric organisation it has always been. Those affiliated with the deposed government and who worked with foreign forces are being hunted down and murdered. The UN says it has received “credible allegations” of over 100 extrajudicial killings carried out by the Taliban since they came to power, despite assurances of an amnesty. Afghanistan is the only country in the world were girls aren’t allowed to go to school.

Yet the cold fact is that for ordinary Afghans, hunger is the most acute threat. Lamb quotes Abdul Qahar Balkhi, deputy spokesman for the Taliban: “[Suspending aid] is not harming me or the leadership. If [the international community] believe starving people to death will have the effect they desire — an uprising and toppling of this government — they’re sorely mistaken.”

Shah Mehrabi, a member of the Supreme Council of the Central Bank of Afghanistan, puts it bluntly: “The choice for the US government is simple: continue down the path that would lead to total economic devastation for millions of people or do what is needed to help the Afghan people.”