The closure of Kabul airport to commercial flights has held up deliveries of equipment, food and essential medicines as half of Afghanistan's population now relies on humanitarian aid.

A US Marine passes out water to evacuees during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 22, 2021.
A US Marine passes out water to evacuees during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 22, 2021. (US Marines / Reuters)

Aid agencies say they have no way to get lifesaving medical supplies and aid to millions of people in Afghanistan due to curbs at Kabul airport, as reserves are rapidly running out.

Richard Brennan, who heads the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional emergency response, said the UN agency only has “a few days left of supplies” for Afghanistan and called for help to ferry in 10 or 12 planeloads of equipment and medicine for its beleaguered people.

The UN has called for immediate access through a humanitarian airbridge, as more than 500 tonnes of medical supplies including surgical equipment and severe malnutrition kits due to be delivered to Afghanistan this week are stuck because of the closure of Kabul airport to commercial flights.

Aid agencies say it is critical that medical and food supplies reach some 300,000 people displaced in Afghanistan over the past two months amid advances by the Taliban that culminated in their capture of Kabul on August 15.

Nearly 18.5 million people - half the population - rely on aid and the humanitarian needs are expected to grow due to drought. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that three of its flights to Afghanistan had been grounded. 

"While the eyes of the world now are on the people being evacuated and the planes leaving, we need to get supplies in to help those who are left behind,"  Brennan told Reuters.

He said the WHO was calling for empty planes to divert to its warehouse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to collect the supplies on their way to pick up evacuees from Afghanistan.

The United States has enlisted six commercial airlines to help move Afghan evacuees, however Washington and NATO coalition partners have so far indicated that they cannot bring supplies on incoming evacuation planes due to "operational constraints and security concerns", Brennan said.

"The US is using these commercial airlines only for evacuation," Brennan said, adding that the WHO was exploring various options and reaching out to other governments.

"We have been advised to explore options at other airports such as Kandahar, Jalalabad and Bagram air bases. We do not yet have aircraft to fly even to those bases."

The executive director of the UN children's agency UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said on Monday around 10 million children across Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance and that conditions are expected to deteriorate further. 

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Supplies to run out in a few days

“We estimate we’ve only got a few days left of supplies,” Brennan said, alluding to a distribution center in Dubai that has what’s needed. “We have 500 metric tons ready to go, but we haven’t got any way of getting them into the country right now.”

Needed supplies include emergency kits and essential medicines for treatment of chronic diseases, like diabetes, WHO said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we might need to get something done in the coming days,” Brennan said, before adding: “We need a consistent humanitarian air bridge into the country ASAP.”

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies