Afghanistan: Report Warns Poverty Could Push Country Back Into Chaos
By Ron Synovitz
Afghanistan could fall back into chaos if complaints from Afghans about poverty are not addressed. That is one of the key findings in a report released yesterday by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Afghan government. In fact, the Afghan "National Human Development Report" was written by a team of researchers independent of the UN and the Afghan government. It is the first such assessment of Afghanistan's economy and society after more than two decades of war.
Prague, 22 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's "National Human Development Report: Security with a Human Face," places the country close to the bottom of a list of 177 countries ranked by the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) global Human Development Index last year. Only five impoverished African nations -- Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone -- are ranked lower than Afghanistan.
The new report on Afghanistan was released yesterday in Kabul. Sponsored by the UNDP and the Afghan government, it is based on two years of work by independent researchers.
UNDP Associate Administrator Zepherin Diabre spoke in Kabul at the ceremony marking the release of the report. He reiterated the study's warning that Afghanistan could fall back into chaos unless genuine grievances about unemployment, health, education, and poverty are dealt with adequately.
"Afghanistan's 'National Human Development Report' is a timely reminder of a key role that Afghanistan will play in global discussions about development. [It is] a nation that has achieved much in recent years but requires intensive support if the gains are to be consolidated," Diabre said.
Diabre said the report will help policymakers and stakeholders in post-Taliban Afghanistan with decisions that, in the past, have been made with little relevant or reliable information.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai wrote in his foreword to the report that it "painted a gloomy picture of the status of human development" after two decades of war and destruction. Karzai said the Afghan government may not agree with all of the report. But he said the government is confident that the recommendations will contribute to debates shaping the future of the country.
Among the statistical revelations is an estimate that the average life expectancy for the people of Afghanistan is about 44 years -- at least 20 years lower than in neighboring Central Asian countries.
The report also says that less than one-third of Afghans over the age of 15 are able to read and write. It warns that nearly two-thirds of Afghan children are not enrolled in school. And it says only two out of 10 girls are enrolled.
"Security with a Human Face" also provides shocking health statistics -- including the fact that a woman dies in Afghanistan every 30 minutes as a result of complications during a pregnancy. It shows that 20 percent of Afghan children die before the age of five and that more than 300,000 children may have perished as a result of the country's recent wars.
Diabre said the international community has a responsibility to ensure Afghans get the help they need. But ultimately, he said, it is the responsibility of Afghans and their government to create conditions for development.
"The report recommends that we, the international community, ensure that you, the Afghans, are in the driving seat in the journey toward peace and prosperity," Diabre said. "We will be expected to provide advice and guidance in everything from local governments to private-sector development. We do have a responsibility to ensure that there exist fair ways of engagement to discourage further conflict and help establish a level playing field with respect to trade regimes -- and upholding human rights standards through respect for dignity and diversity. But we must all remember that the international community can only help you grow. They cannot do it for you."
The conclusions in yesterday's report support what international aid workers in provincial regions of Afghanistan have been saying for years.
Maartan Roest is a spokesman for the UN's World Food Program. He has been working this month in one of Afghanistan's poorest regions -- the northeastern province of Badakhshan. "Despite the tremendous political progress that has been made over the last years in Afghanistan, it should not be forgotten that the humanitarian needs are still very large," he said. "It is a country where, for instance in this region, food needs still remain high, which is why the World Food Program assists the most vulnerable people."
Roest noted that the World Food Program is one of several aid groups delivering food in a way that encourages literacy. In Yamgun -- a village in Badakhshan considered a high priority for humanitarian aid -- sacks of wheat flour and cooking oil for entire families are distributed to enrolled schoolchildren and their teachers.
"When we look into the future, it is the World Food Program's view -- in support of the Afghan government -- that there is no better way to assist the people than to support the education of its children. Especially in a region where the vast majority of people, especially the women, are illiterate," Roest told RFE/RL.
Roest concluded that the construction of roads is also a key priority for improving the lives of people in the most remote and impoverished regions of Afghanistan.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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