In August, the world watched in shock as the Western-backed Afghan government rapidly collapsed and the country spiraled into chaos, culminating in the Taliban's takeover of the capital, Kabul, and return to power after nearly 20 years.

Since then, Afghanistan has faded from global view. But almost 9 million Afghans are now at risk of famine, and a further 14 million are facing acute hunger, owing to a drought and an economic collapse triggered by the sudden suspension of foreign aid. The World Health Organization warns that 1 million Afghan children are at risk of dying this winter.

In December, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution exempting humanitarian aid from sanctions against the Taliban. But that is just one piece of the puzzle in addressing the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan. The global community is facing an urgent challenge to prevent mass starvation and avoid a complete collapse of basic services.

The Council on State Fragility, of which I am a member alongside prominent global leaders, is calling on the international community not to abandon the people of Afghanistan and to act now to head off imminent famine. Specifically, we urge world leaders to focus on three key imperatives.

First, as Afghanistan slides further into a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, the U.N. — the one global actor that can help the country pull through — can still support Afghans, even as its member states continue to debate whether to recognize the Taliban government.

Comment: The international community should be obliged to assist the people whose country they occupied on false pretences over the past two decades.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, acting with the full backing of the Security Council, should strengthen the mandate of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and send a special envoy to be based in Kabul with U.N. agencies' staff. Furthermore, Guterres should task the UNAMA with maintaining clear and consistent communication channels with the Taliban leadership and ensuring an integrated approach to humanitarian, development and peace efforts.

The U.N. and its agencies are not new to such challenges. Similarly strong and coordinated U.N. responses have had a clear impact in other difficult contexts, including in North Korea, Yemen and Sudan.

Comment: The success in those countries is debatable.

In Afghanistan, U.N. agencies have excellent local staff: well-trained, experienced and devoted men and women, many of whom successfully delivered aid programs under the Taliban's previous regime in the 1990s. They have done the same in Taliban-controlled areas in the recent past.

Second, inclusivity is essential to a stable, lasting peace. An inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan remains as necessary today as it was before the Taliban retook control of the country. Rather than writing off the Afghan peace process as dead in the water, the international community should view it as a multiyear, adaptive and ongoing process of bringing all sides together to build bridges and reach a common understanding regarding the country's future.

The winner-takes-all politics that has long plagued Afghanistan must be avoided at all costs, because exclusion will only fuel endless cycles of conflict. National consensus-building mechanisms, chief among them a well-prepared and well-led Loya Jirga — a traditional gathering of ethnic, tribal and religious leaders — can help to foster agreement among the country's communities and lead to the patient construction of the new dispensation Afghanistan needs.

Lastly, Afghanistan's immediate neighbors and near-neighbors — primarily Iran, Pakistan, China and India, as well as key regional actors such as Qatar and Turkey — have a critical role to play in stabilizing the country. The international community should urge these countries to contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan and support existing constructive engagement by regional players, such as Qatar, that have established a track record as trusted interlocutors between the Taliban and the outside world.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is severe and millions of lives are at stake this winter. The international community, with strong U.N. leadership, can and should step up to support Afghans at this challenging time. The world must deliver aid where it is most needed and support national reconciliation and peace processes for as long as necessary.
Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, is a former United Nations special representative in Afghanistan.