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Afghanistan's Future Holds Promise And Peril

*Afghanistan's Future Holds Promise And Peril*

*/First Afghanistan Human Development Report shows economy, education improving, but poverty, inequality and instability threatening progress./*

*/Kabul, 21 February 2005/*—Afghanistan has made remarkable progress since the demise of the Taliban government in late 2001, but the fragile nation could easily slip back into chaos and abject poverty, the United Nations Development Programme concludes in a report released today.

Basic human needs—jobs, health, education, dignity and opportunities for participation must—be met or Afghanistan could once again become a failed state, posing a threat to its own people as well as to the international community, the report warns.

The National Human Development Report: /Security With a Human Face/, marks the first time in modern history that objective observers were allowed to gather and tabulate hard data on living conditions among everyday Afghans. It draws a portrait of a nation still at odds—if no longer at war—with itself. And in a novel approach to peacemaking, the unblinking, unvarnished Report concludes that “human security” and “human development,” rather than military force and diplomacy alone, are key to resolving Afghanistan's complex problems. The legitimate grievances of the Afghan people must be addressed before a lasting peace can take hold. Beyond survival, Afghans expect an existence with dignity, a life free of fear and free from wants.

“The considerable vote of confidence that the government received through landmark elections should encourage accountability towards Afghans first. The international community is committed to fighting terrorism and drugs inside Afghanistan, but human security cannot take a back seat to the national and international security interests of other nations,” says Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, the report's editor.

Christophe Alexander, Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, adds: “The Human Development Report is a critical new roadmap for us all, highlighting the human side of the Bonn agenda and placing Afghans at centre stage—both as the means and ends of development.”

Among the high and low points of human development in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

*Human Development Index:* The Report “paints a gloomy picture of the status of human development after two decades of war and destruction,” concedes President Hamid Karzai in the Forward, noting the ranking of 173 out of 178 nations on the UNDP’s 2004 Human Development Index. Only a few sub-Saharan nations rank lower. Life expectancy, at 44.5 years, is at least 20 years lower than in neighbouring countries.

*Economic Growth:* Positive: Under the post-Taliban interim government, Afghanistan's economy has recovered significantly. Non-drug Gross Domestic Product rose to about US$4.05 billion in 2002— a yearly recovery of 25-30 percent. In 2002, agriculture made up 52 per cent of national output, with a value of about $2.1 billion. Economic growth for 2003 was estimated at 16 percent. Over the next decade, non-drug GDP is expected to grow by 10-12 percent.

*Poverty:* Positive: Rising GDP creates the potential for more equitable income distribution. Surprisingly, violence as a cause of poverty was reported by only two-to-five percent of the rural population. Negative: One out of two Afghans can be classified as poor, and 20.4 percent of the rural population consumes less than 2,070 kilocalories per day. Over half the population is severely impacted by drought.

*Education:* Positive: Considerable progress has been made since the Taliban’s collapse. The “Back to School” campaign launched by the Afghanistan Interim Authority resulted in some three million children grades one to 12 and 70,000 teachers returning to school. By 2004, 54.4 percent of primary age children were in school. Since 2002, a record four million high school students have enrolled. Negative: Afghanistan now has “the worst education system in the world,” and one of the lowest adult literacy rates, at just 28.7 per cent of the population. Only Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone have lower values. Nearly 80 per cent of the country's 6,900 schools were damaged or destroyed in fighting.

*Drugs: Positive:* Illicit opium production may have peaked as more local religious leaders order farmers to replace opium with crops such as wheat. Negative: Opium economy equals 38.2 percent of the country's official GDP. Afghanistan is now the world's major producer of illegal narcotics, with some 76 percent of the supply. In 2002, drug-related income was calculated at $2.54 billion, or 63 cents for each dollar of legal GDP ($4.05 billion). Eradication of the drugs however has to be tied to a comprehensive strategy that diversifies livelihoods if it is not to further impoverish farmers.

*Women and Children*: Positive: More schools and public spaces have been opened to women, and access to media and other forms of expression are on the rise, including new women-run radio-stations. The country’s new Constitution outlaws gender discrimination and states that men and women “have equal rights and duties before the law.” A significant number of seats are now reserved for women in the National Assembly. Negative: Years of discrimination and poverty have relegated Afghan women to some of the worst social indicators in the world. Traditional mentalities still hold women back. Of 300 children surveyed, 72 percent have experienced the death of a relative and nearly all witnessed acts of violence, while two-thirds had seen dead bodies or parts of bodies. A Gender Development Index calculated by the Report puts Afghanistan only above Niger and Burkina Faso and much below all of its neighbours.

*Health:* Positive: Vaccinations programmes against measles and other childhood diseases are improving, and efforts are underway to distribute anti-malaria medication in at-risk areas. Negative: One woman dies from pregnancy-related causes approximately every 30 minutes, and maternal mortality rates are 60 times higher than in industrialized countries. Seventy percent of all tuberculosis cases are among women. One out of five children dies before the age of five (among the highest rates in the world) from diseases that are 80 per cent preventable. Some 39 percent of the population in urban areas and 69 percent in rural areas do not have safe water and one in eight children die because of contaminated water.

*Security and Civil Rights:* Positive: Afghanistan successfully elected a president for the first time in history. The new Constitution and upcoming parliamentary elections—though postponed—should yield increased government accountability, a forged link between the people and their government, better-trained and more centralized state security, and separation of civilian and military policing. Negative: “Factional elements” are still in power in many areas, with their own privatized security forces, outside of central government control. Physical violence by armed militias continues, as does torture by security forces, deadly attacks by Taliban, hostage taking, street gangs, and domestic violence against women and children.

*Refugees:* Positive: Most Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons do not feel that violence is an impediment to their return home. Indeed, since the fall of the Taliban, more than 1.8 million people have returned from Pakistan and 600,000 from Iran. In addition, there were over one million IDPs in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2002, and now the majority of them have returned. Negative: Afghans comprise the second largest number of refugees and IDPs in the world, after Palestinians. Over a quarter of the country’s population has sought refuge outside of the country, prompting the United Nations to declare Afghanistan the major site of human displacement in the world. An estimated 3.4 million Afghans still remain outside the country and 200,000 IDPs are in the southern and western sections..

*Foreign Aid:* Positive: Humanitarian and reconstruction aid can be very cost-effective compared with military aid. Foreign aid can foster economic stability and trade with other countries, while diluting the appeal of political extremism. Negative: Because aid in Afghanistan is introduced in a highly political environment, massive and sudden aid may exacerbate conflict and increase competition, unless equitable distribution and anti-corruption measures are in place. Aid based on relief can prolong dependence and can create market distortion, while funds that bypass the central government and work directly with regional powers controlled by private militias can increase tensions between the centre and provinces.

Afghanistan’s first National Human Development Report, /Security with a Human Face/, was initiated in 2003 by the Government of Afghanistan and UNDP, and was launched today with Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Haneef Atmar and Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Zéphirin Diabré. The Report was made possible thanks to the financial support of UNDP, the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank.

The UNDP has helped more than 135 developing countries and five regions to produce their own national and regional Human Development Reports. These Reports, written by local experts, spur public debate and bring political attention to pressing development needs. They propose concrete solutions to mobilize the resources, policies and political will to overcome poverty and bring about growth, equality, investment in people’s basic needs, and freedom. They also help donor governments measure the impact of aid dollars.

© Scoop Media

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