San Francisco Chronicle
Kandahar, Afghanistan -- Three years after the United States drove the Taliban out and vowed to rebuild Afghanistan, the war-shattered country ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the U.N. 2004 Human Development Index, according to a new report from the United Nations.
It is trailed only by five 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 warns that Afghanistan could revert to anarchy if its dire poverty, poor health and insecurity are 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 U.S.-led war in 2001, the report said. More than 54 percent of school-age children are enrolled in school, including 4 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 U.N. Development Program, the country has a long way to go just to get back to where it was 20 years ago. 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. One of 2 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. 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 with Canada 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 age 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 1 in 8 children die from a 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 is $190 and the unemployment rate is 25 percent, said Hanif Atmar, the minister of rehabilitation and rural development.
"Obviously, this is a warning," Atmar said of the report. "It shows why we are poor, how and in what way we can solve this."
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