The United States announced Thursday it is providing nearly $144 million in new humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, where millions of people could face acute hunger this winter unless aid arrives soon. 

National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement the U.S. assistance will be directed through independent organizations that provide support directly to more than 18.4 million vulnerable Afghans, including Afghan refugees in neighboring countries. 

“Our partners provide lifesaving protection, shelter, livelihoods support, essential health care, winterization assistance, emergency food aid, water, sanitation, and hygiene services in response to the growing humanitarian needs exacerbated by health care shortages, drought, malnutrition, and the impending winter,” Horne said. 

She noted that the additional funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees in the region to nearly $474 million in 2021, the largest amount of assistance from any nation. 

The United Nations said more than four decades of deadly conflicts and recurrent natural disasters have resulted in a protracted food crisis in Afghanistan.

Humanitarian needs have grown to unprecedented levels, and more than half of the conflict-torn country’s estimated 40 million population, a record 22.8 million people, will “face acute food insecurity” from November, U.N agencies warned earlier this week.

Among those at risk are 3.2 million children under age 5 who are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year, they said. 

U.S. and Western troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August after 20 years of involvement in the fighting, leading to the fall of the Afghan government to Taliban insurgents. 

The return of the Islamist Taliban to power has triggered financial sanctions on Kabul by the United States and other nations over human rights and terrorism concerns. 

The sanctions have blocked the group’s access to about $10 billion in Afghan assets parked largely with the U.S. Federal Reserve, raising prospects of an economic meltdown in Afghanistan.

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