The New York Times
By CARLOTTA GALL
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Feb. 21 - Three years after the United States drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan and vowed to rebuild, the war-shattered country ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the United Nations 2004 Human Development Index, according to a new report from the United Nations.
It was trailed only by a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone.
The survey, "National Human Development Report: Security With a Human Face," released Monday in Kabul, is the first comprehensive look at the state of development in Afghanistan in 30 years. In addition to ranking Afghanistan in the development index for the first time, the report warned that Afghanistan could revert to anarchy if its dire poverty, poor health and insecurity were not improved.
"The fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos," concluded the authors of the study, led by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, the report's editor in chief. "The basic human needs and genuine grievances of the people, lack of jobs, health, education, income, dignity and opportunities for participation must be met."
Despite the problems, Afghanistan has shown remarkable progress in the three years since the United States-led war in 2001, the report said.
More than 54 percent of school-age children are enrolled, including four million high school students. The economy is making great strides, with growth of 16 percent in nondrug gross domestic product in 2003 and predicted growth of 10 to 12 percent annually for the next decade.
While there has been rapid progress, said Zphirin Diabr, associate administrator of the United Nations Development Program, the country has a long way to go just to get back to where it was 20 years ago. The figures, as President Hamid Karzai says in the report's introduction, paint a gloomy picture.
Average life expectancy for Afghanistan's 28.5 million people is 44.5 years, at least 20 years lower than that of neighboring countries, the report said. Ambassador Christopher Alexander of Canada, whose government helped pay for the report, said that illustrated Afghanistan's post-conflict predicament and the prevalence of poverty.
One of two Afghans can be classified as poor, and 20.4 percent of the rural population does not have enough to eat, getting less than the benchmark of 2,070 calories a day. More than half of the population has suffered from the effects of a prolonged drought, the report said.
One-quarter of the population has at some time sought refuge outside the country, and 3.6 million remain refugees or displaced people.
Most glaring are the inequalities that affect women and children, still some of the worst social indicators in the world today, said Alistair McKechnie, country director of the World Bank, which financed the report along with the Canadians and the United Nations. One woman dies from pregnancy-related causes about every 30 minutes, and maternal mortality rates are 60 times higher than in industrialized countries, the report said.
One-fifth of the children die before the age of 5, 80 percent of them from preventable diseases, one of the worst rates in the world. Only 25 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water, and one in eight children die from lack of clean water.
Afghanistan now has the worst education system in the world, the report concluded, and one of the lowest adult literacy rates, 28.7 percent. Annual per capita income was $190 and the unemployment rate 25 percent, said Hanif Atmar, the minister of rehabilitation and rural development.
"Obviously this is a warning," the minister said of the report. "It shows why we are poor, how and in what way we can solve this."
The success of Afghanistan depends on improved security, political reform, broad-based economic development and gradual elimination of poppy production, Mr. McKechnie said, adding that failure in any of those areas would imperil the reconstruction of the state country and the living conditions of the people.
The report and its donors emphasized that attention must be paid to helping the nation's poorest people if Afghanistan is to be lifted out of its dire poverty and persistent instability.
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