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Afghanistan - Introduction

Afghanistan was one of the poorest and least educated countries in the world. After four decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan, socio-economic conditions are deteriorated and the basic infrastructure was completely destroyed. Its conflict ridden history, which has global ramifications, makes it a special case in national development. Here human poverty was a multidimensional problem. It includes inequality in access to productive assets and social services, health, education and nutrition status, weak social protection system, vulnerability to macro and micro level risks – natural as well as human triggered, human displacement, gender inequalities and political marginalization.

Afghanistan had one of the highest mortality rates in the world: one in five children dies before the age of five and one out of every eight Afghan women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth each year. Life expectancy was 49 years for both men and women. While these statistics are tragic, there had been progress. Recent reports indicate that 85% of the population has access to basic health services within 1 hour of travel to a health facility (68% for those on foot)--up from 9% in 2002. More than 1,650 professional midwives are employed by the ministry of public health, providing health care and childbirth services across Afghanistan. This helped reduce infant mortality rates, and child mortality had also fallen since 2002.

Afghanistan made impressive advances in increasing basic education. More than 10,000 schools are providing education services to over 7 million children, a more than six-fold enrollment growth since 2001. During the Taliban regime no girls were registered in schools. By 2015, 37% of the student population was girls. Similarly, the number of teachers has increased seven-fold to 142,500, of whom nearly 40,000 are women.

The international standard for functional literacy was known as Level 3. People at Level 1 can read and write single words; count to 1,000; add and subtract whole numbers, while those at Level 2 can read and write sentences, multiply and divide numbers, identify units of measurement. Level 3 was defined as the ability to “identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”. At levels 1 and 2, individuals are classified as functionally illiterate.

As of early 2012 there were about 11,000 Afghan National Army personnel at Level 3 literacy [out of 188,000 total] and some 16,000 ANP personnel at Level 3 [out of 145,000 total]. UNESCO estimates that only 51.9 percent of Afghan men over the age of 15 and a mere 21.9 percent of women in the same age group can read and write. In 2008 it was estimated that the overall literacy rate was 28.1% (male 43%, female 12%). The real figures must be much lower, given the Army and Police numbers, and the breakdown of education system and flight of educated Afghans during 3 decades of war and instability. With functional literacy rates of no better than 10% in the Policy and 6% in the Army, these numbers must represent the number who know their ABCs, not the number that can write sentences.

Adult literacy activities increased rapidly in 2009. Learning centers grew from 1,100 to 6,865, and activities expanded from 9 to 20 provinces, bringing literacy and financial services to over 169,000 beneficiaries (62% female). Ongoing support of literacy and basic education was paramount, as well as the quality and preparation of teachers in order to close the literacy gap left by 30 years of conflict.

For several thousand years, known by several different names, Afghanistan was a region of central Asia, not a country. In recent times, Afghanistan has rarely had a strong central government. Generally, it was only during the “Golden Era” of Afghanistan, under King Zahir Shah and his father (1929-1974), that Afghanistan had a functioning central government that controlled the country. After over twenty years of civil war, there remains a strong sense among the main groups -- southern-based Pashtuns and northern groups including Tajiks and Uzbeks -- that regional interests come second to a pan-Afghan identity. Afghanistan remains an unstable place, where Al Qaeda loyalists continue to launch attacks against government forces, and officials in Kabul struggle to curtail the influence of regional warlords. Security remained the main concern, as government attempts to build security capacity flagged.

The country's population was almost entirely Muslim. Non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christian, Hindu, and Sikh groups, are targets of discrimination and persecution. Conversion from Islam was understood by Shia and Sunni Islamic clergy, as well as many citizens, to contravene the tenets of Islam. Within the Muslim population, relations among the different sects continued to be difficult. Historically the minority Shia community has faced discrimination from the majority Sunni population. This discrimination continues. Local Hindu and Sikh populations, although allowed to practice their religion publicly, continued to encounter problems.

Except in areas above 2000 metres, malaria was prevalent in Afghanistan, particularly between April and September, Chloroquine-resistant strains are prevalent in some areas. Other insect-borne diseases (such as leishmaniasis) are common. Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis, leptospirosis, pertussis and rabies) are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Poliovirus (Poliomyelitis) remains endemic in Afghanistan. In May 2015 the WHO reiterated its 2014 assessment that wild poliovirus was a “public health emergency of international concern”.

Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's opium, and the United Nations said as much as 15 percent of Afghanistan's Gross Domestic Product comes from the drug trade.

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