Children in Afghanistan are more likely to die before the age of five than children anywhere else in the world with more than 850 dying a day, according to the UN – many from easily treatable illnesses like diarrhoea or pneumonia.
Last year was also the deadliest for Afghan children since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan Rights Monitor said, with more than 1,050 killed by suicide attacks, air strikes, explosions and crossfire.
Save the Children said that the true scale of the humanitarian crisis facing the country remains hidden because of the focus on the conflict, and warned it will only get worse unless world leaders take urgent action.
The international community needs to ensure families across the country are able to access the clean water, nutritious food and healthcare they need to keep their children alive, the aid agency said, and added that it fears there may be a major drought this year because of a lack of snow this winter.
Save the Children said "shocking" statistics reveal how urgently aid is needed:
• A quarter of all children born in Afghanistan die before the age of five.
• Every half an hour a woman dies from a pregnancy-related problem. An Afghan woman is 225 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in the UK – the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
• Nearly 60% of children are malnourished and will not recover from the physical and mental damage done by not having nutritious food early in life.
• In some rural areas 92% of girls aren’t able to go to school.
• Two thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day and one in three live in extreme poverty, which means they can’t afford even essential basic food.
• Many children have to work to support their families.
• Life expectancy is just 44.
Patrick Watt, Save the Children’s Director of Development Policy, said: “Afghanistan’s children are facing a massive humanitarian crisis. Despite the millions of pounds that have been spent on winning hearts and minds in the fight against the Taliban, Afghan children now have the worst chance in the world of surviving to their fifth birthday.
"Helmand is among the most heavily aided places on earth per capita, yet tens of thousands of families living outside the immediate conflict zones are struggling to keep their children alive because they can’t get medical treatment or provide clean water or nutritious food to keep them healthy.
"More than 850 children die every day, many from easily treatable illnesses like diarrhoea or pneumonia. World leaders need to ensure families across the country – not just those living in the conflict zones – can keep their children alive.”
Save the Children also said that the current UK and NATO approach in Afghanistan is “blurring the lines” between military and humanitarian objectives, which is putting the lives of aid workers and Afghan civilians in danger.
Patrick Watt added: "Funding soldiers to carry out humanitarian work such as rebuilding schools threatens the impartiality of aid agencies working on the ground and makes it much more dangerous for us to operate in the country. It could also turn hospitals or schools rebuilt with military help into targets and put children’s lives at risk.
"If aid is to be effective it must be planned and carried out in close and trusted consultation with affected communities. It is clear that soldiers involved in the conflict in Afghanistan should not be carrying out sensitive and complex humanitarian work with vulnerable communities. It is only through impartial aid organisations such as Save the Children that essential rebuilding can be done safely and successfully."
Save the Children is launching an emergency appeal to boost its life-saving work in Afghanistan; treating malnourished children, supporting health clinics and distributing urgently-needed household essentials such as buckets for carrying water and blankets.