More than three years after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime, the United Nations painted Monday, February 21, a bleak picture of the situation in Afghanistan.
The first ever Afghanistan Human Development Report warned that unless the lack of jobs, health care, education and political participation were addressed, “the fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos,” reported Reuters.
The document, prepared by the UN Development Program (UNDP) with government participation, said serious security problems remained and the country had some of the world's worst rates of life expectancy, conditions for women and children, and literacy.
“Despite the difficulties Afghan refugees are coming home in their millions with 1.8 million people returning from Pakistan and 600,000 coming back from Iran since the fall of the Taliban,” the report said.
However, many of them found no jobs or clean water to drink, warned the UN report.
The report further said that conditions for women and children were especially dire, with one in five children dying before the age of five and one woman dying of pregnancy-related illness every 30 minutes.
“Of 300 children surveyed, 72 percent experienced the death of a relative and nearly all witnessed acts of violence, while two-thirds had seen dead bodies or body parts,” the report said.
It also found that the poorest 30 percent of the population received only nine percent of the national income, while the upper third received 55 percent.
While millions more Afghans were back at school, the report said, the education system remained the “worst in the word”, with 80 percent of schools destroyed or damaged in the years of the war.
Only 28.7 percent of Afghans over 15 could read and write and life expectancy at birth was just 44.5 years -- at least 20 years lower than that in neighboring states, and six years lower than the global average for least-developed countries, according to the UN report.
“Decades of conflict had taken a devastating toll, leaving Afghanistan near the bottom of the 177 countries covered in the UNDP human development index, just above Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone.”
Although Afghanistan's economy has grown by 25 to 30 percent since the fall of the Taliban, most of the country's economic activity is fuelled by illicit drugs, the report said.
The UN’s annual opium survey revealed in November that Afghanistan was still facing the threat of being a corrupt “narco-state” after the opium production rose by two thirds this year.
“The government needed to design a comprehensive development strategy and to create an environment dominated by the rule of law, not the gun,” the UNDP report said.
The UN said the international community needed to take a broad and long-term view of Afghanistan's development.
The country needs multi-year commitments of international aid to fund long-term development, but that needs to be carefully directed to avoid dependency and disparities and Afghans needed to be better consulted over strategies.
“The overwhelming majority of people expressed their sense of pessimism and fear that reconstruction had bypassed the ordinary Afghan,” the UN report said.
It noted that the United States was spending $1 billion a month to fight its so-called war on terrorism, far less than what was being spent to curb the poverty that can breed militancy.
The UN report also had a message for Afghanistan's neighbors, saying there had been only partial progress in converting their interference to constructive engagement.
“The involvement of Afghanistan's neighbors seems to be aimed as much at maintaining options in case of renewed conflict as it does at contributing to peace-building and reconstruction.”
A UN rights investigator examining the situation in Afghanistan said on February 5 that US-led foreign troops had mistreated and tortured people in the war-torn country.
“There is a very unusual practice in Afghanistan, mainly foreign forces, who have taken upon themselves the right, without any legal process of arresting people, detaining them, mistreating them and possibly even torturing them,” Cherif Bassiouni, the UN-appointed Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan, had said.
The Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that the abuse of Afghan detainees by the US forces was “systematic” and not limited to a few cases.
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