Afghanistan has been affected by decades of never-ending conflict. The pernicious effect of the conflict is reflected in the recently published United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Human Development Report 2020. The report acts as a reminder that Afghanistan is yet to recover from the bruises of conflict and it remains one of the world’s poorest nations, with a gross national income
of $560 per capita in 2017. Around 24 percent of the labour force remains unemployed with over 47 percent of young women who are not working.
The country has come a long way since 2002 but the indices for human development aren’t discussed in policy circles. Corruption and weak institutions have been major setbacks for development in the country. To understand the nature of the humanitarian crisis that the country faces, it is important to discuss some of the parameters used to measure the human development report.
Around 24 percent of the labour force remains unemployed with over 47 percent of young women who are not working.
Economic and health infrastructure
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the Afghan economy too, and there has been a steady decline in government revenue collections, because of the low economic activity, caused by the restrictions and trade disruptions. A report by the World Bank warns that the percentage of the Afghan population living in poverty may increase
from 55 in 2017 to 72 in 2020. The income of the people has decreased during the pandemic, and the rising prices of food, owing to supply shortage, has made the situation worse. The pandemic has also opened up a major problem of limited economic diversification. The economy is heavily dependent on the Torkham border-crossing with Pakistan and it suffered badly in this pandemic.
The country’s healthcare is often regarded as one of the world’s most inferior ones. Post Taliban regime, the government has tried to rebuild most of the healthcare infrastructure with the help of foreign aid. The number of healthcare facilities
has increased from around 500 in 2003 to 2500 in 2018. There has also been a significant increase in the number of healthcare workers in the country. The maternal mortality and infant mortality rates have decreased
significantly over the years.
The pandemic has also opened up a major problem of limited economic diversification.
There are, however, apprehensions about the peace deal and how the healthcare system will work as the Taliban has a moderate ideology. In the last few months, there have been deliberate attacks on healthcare workers
and a total of 12 such attacks were recorded in the first two months of the pandemic. The attack on Dasht-e-Barchi hospital
in Kabul killed 24 persons, including two new-borns, and forced the hospital to cease its operations from June.
The Health Ministry has reported a total of 52,586 Covid positive cases and 2,211 deaths but the testing capacity is severely limited
. The Health officials claim
that the death toll might be higher than its projections and 32 percent of the population may have already contracted the virus. The lockdown imposed didn’t help to contain the spread of the virus as the citizens had to continue working to sustain themselves after a point of time.
Crisis in education
The Afghan education system has been largely affected by the sustained conflict over the last three decades. The Education Ministry mentioned
that out of 12 million school-aged children, over five million children are currently out of school and the majority of them are girls. The reason for low girl enrolment ratio and lack of equal access to primary education can be explained by the fact that only 16 percent of Afghanistan’s schools
are girls only and many of these schools lack basic sanitation and infrastructure. The Education Ministry also acknowledged
that 6,000 schools have no building at all and over 17,000 schools lack adequate facilities. The schools aren’t always motorable and the students don’t receive a quality education in those institutions. The socio-cultural factors further affect the already fragile education system in the country.
A lot of students were forced to help their parents at work and it is unlikely they will ever return to school again.
During the time of Covid-19, the education of most of the students got affected as schools remained shut for months. A lot of students were forced to help their parents at work and it is unlikely they will ever return to school again. The government promoted distance learning through radio and television but as much as 70 percent of the population
doesn’t even have access to electricity.
The schools reopened in September for face-to-face classes but it was again closed for the winter break in November, thus wasting one entire academic year due to the pandemic. The quality of education can only improve when the government invests more on education and partners with private organisations. A girl’s right to education should not only be treated as a method to promote inclusivity but also an economic necessity. The education system should look for enrolments as well as retention of the students.
The situation of women, particularly living in the urban area, has significantly improved post-2001 but there is much to lose for them from a bad intra-Afghan deal. The Taliban imposed harsh social and political restrictions on women, including mandatorily covering their face, restricting access to education, healthcare and jobs. The women weren’t allowed to be present in public spaces without the presence of a male member of the family.
Most of the women in urban areas holding portfolios are educated and have been a part of the civil society before. The situation in rural areas, where 76 percent of Afghan women live, isn’t the same though.
Less than 10%
of the girls were enrolled in primary schools in 2003, but by the end of 2017, the figures had grown to 33 percent. Similarly, enrolment of girls in secondary education also saw a sharp increase of 33 percent. As of now
, 21 percent of civil servants and 27 percent of members of parliament are women.
Most of the women in urban areas holding portfolios are educated and have been a part of the civil society before. The situation in rural areas, where 76 percent of Afghan women live, isn’t the same though. The areas are mostly captured by the Taliban and there’s continuous fighting between the militants and the security forces. A lot of women, having lost their husbands and brothers in the war, and unable to work, live in poor economic conditions.
The Taliban doesn’t have any women in their negotiating team and have denied commenting on the inclusion of women in government bodies or their earlier position of continuous marginalisation of women.
The pandemic has made the situation worse
for women and denied their basic rights to healthcare. There has been an increase in domestic violence and the widening of economic inequality. The future seems bleak as the intra-Afghan talks resume on 5 January. Out of 21 members appointed by the Afghan government for negotiations, there are only five women in the team.
The Taliban doesn’t have any women in their negotiating team and have denied commenting on the inclusion of women in government bodies or their earlier position of continuous marginalisation of women. The US, even as it withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, should make sure that there is a strong policy tabled to preserve and protect the rights of the women and it must impose sanctions on the foreign aid if they are violated.
Surge in violence
Despite the intra-Afghan peace talks that started in September, violence has spiked significantly over the last few months. The Taliban militants have been attacking the government officials, journalists and the Afghan forces. The casualties reached
3,378 security-force and 1,468 civilian deaths in 2020. The Afghan government as well as the US have called for an immediate ceasefire.
The recent report
on the Global Terrorism Index mentioned that Afghanistan accounts for 41 percent of the deaths from terrorism globally. The Taliban is responsible for 87 percent of the fatalities and presently controls half the territories in Afghanistan. The fatality count and the area captured by the Taliban is the highest since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Over the last few years, there has also been an increase in civilian casualties. The total number of civilian casualties
increased due to the increase in airstrikes by the US and its allies. In 2019, a total of 700 civilians have been killed.
The fatality count and the area captured by the Taliban is the highest since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The US is leaving Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban. It didn’t even include the internationally recognised Afghan government in the deal. The Taliban did commit to preventing the use of Afghanistan’s territory to launch attacks on the US or its allies but mentions nothing of the Taliban’s presence in Pakistan or renouncing its ties with Al Qaeda. A flawed deal like this will not bring the much-needed peace that Afghanistan needs right now.
The economy is set to contract
by 5.5-7.4 percent in 2020, leading to an increase in poverty and a sharp decline in the government revenue because of Covid-19. With these statistics, it will take years for the country to recover and it will need the help of foreign aid to sustain its recovery.
The government needs to develop policies to generate more revenue amidst the cuts in foreign aid.
The recent breakthrough in the peace talks though offers some hope for the next round of negotiations, the international stakeholders still need to play an important role in ensuring that sustained peace is achieved to the decades-old conflict. The Human Development Report by the UNDP mentions
the presence of rich mineral wealth of the country, which mainly remains unexplored, and that most of the trade remains informal and illegal. The country can tap on its mineral resources to unlock its economic wealth.
The government needs to develop policies to generate more revenue amidst the cuts in foreign aid. Given the nature of continued violence, a probable second wave of the pandemic and uncertainty looming in the peace talks, the government needs to strengthen the institutions to attract investments and private sectors to come out of the economic mess.
This article originally appeared in South Asia Weekly. The author is Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation.
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