- UNDP in Afghanistan
- About Afghanistan
Total % of GDP
Life expectancy (at birth)
Mortality rates (per 1,000 live births)
Despite almost 40 years of unbroken conflict, Afghanistan has witnessed remarkable improvements since the year 2000.
Healthcare provision has managed to expand and improve, even in the face of violence, leading to a rise in life expectancy for all groups and sharp falls in maternal and child mortality.
Economic growth has led to a five-fold increase in GDP, accompanied by new business and working opportunities for millions of Afghans and a transformation in industries ranging from telecommunications and media to travel and logistics.
School enrolment rates for girls and boys together have seen similar rises over the same period, while for girls alone they have jumped from around zero in the year 2000 to more than 40% today.
It cannot be denied that the situation for women in general remains one of the most unequal and dangerous in the world. But in many areas of life – including healthcare, education, economic empowerment, access to justice and political representation – opportunities have opened up that would have been unthinkable before the turn of the century.
2018 saw Afghanistan’s first fully Afghan-owned and Afghan-led elections, with record levels of voter turnout and candidate participation, and democratic institutions continue to develop while government services improve in both quality and reach.
There has been a flourishing of the arts and sport – whether that’s music, painting, and cinema, or cricket and football – allowing many men and women to pursue a meaning and self-fulfilment that were denied to them in previous decades.
Nonetheless, some of these gains have slowed or reversed in recent years, and Afghanistan remains a country beset by challenges across all areas of development. In particular, recent declines in security and economic growth are taking an incalculable toll on lives across the nation.
Afghanistan is still among the lowest ranked countries on UNDP’s Human Development Index, at 168 out of 189 nations covered, and will continue to need significant assistance from the international community to realise the true potential of its resilient and capable people.
Afghanistan is blessed with abundant renewable energy possibilities, including wind, water and solar, but lacks suitable technology, policies, management capacity and financing for their full exploitation. Only 29% of the rural population has access to electricity, making life harder for families, local businesses and public services such as schools and clinics.
At the same time, climate change threatens to undo many of the gains made in Afghanistan over the last decade by making it harder to grow crops and by causing more frequent natural disasters. Less rain has resulted in extensive droughts, while more rapid melting of mountain ice in the summers has brought devastating floods. After decades of conflict and underfunding, many communities are ill-equipped to deal with these conditions.
Conflict, illegal logging and grazing have decimated Afghanistan’s forests. Once tree cover dips below 15 percent it is impossible to prevent topsoil erosion and maintain air quality, but in Afghanistan coverage is already down to 3 percent. If current trends continue, all forests could disappear in the next 30 years.
As the forests disappear, so do other plants and animals, including endangered species like the snow leopard. This loss affects food security, resilience to natural disasters, energy security and access to clean water and raw materials. National parks and other protected areas have made progress in conserving biodiversity and resources, but work is needed to strengthen management plans, enforcement of regulations and local community involvement.
Pollution also poses threats to life and wellbeing. Afghanistan’s air kills more people than conflict, with more than 50,000 air pollution-related deaths every year. Vehicles, home generators and industry are major sources of outdoor pollution, while the use of solid fuel, including plastic and rubber waste for cooking and heating, causes high levels of indoor air pollution that disproportionately affect women and girls.
On the ground, unregulated mining, pesticide use and poorly sealed septic tanks and landfills have degraded water quality. Huge amounts of water are also lost through inefficient irrigation, which is an urgent issue for a country that already uses more than 80% of its available water reserves.
Chances of survival, schooling, employment and legal redress and have all increased since 2001, but Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult and dangerous places to be a woman and is ranked just 153 out of 160 countries on UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index.
The number of midwives and female healthcare workers has jumped, boosting access to services for women, particularly in rural areas, and contributing to a drop in maternal mortality from 1,100 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 396 per 100,000 in 2015. Nonetheless, Afghan women still face a roughly 2% chance of dying during pregnancy or delivery, making Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places to give birth – in a country where the fertility rate is 5.33 children per woman.
Lower house elections in 2018 saw a record 417 women running for office, with 27% of seats reserved for women by the constitution. More than ever, women are also present in prominent positions, including on provincial councils, ministries and the High Peace Council, but their overall political representation still lags behind that of men. Women account for only 22% of civil service staff, 7% of senior government positions and 1.4% of the security services.
In 2018, reports from Global Rights and OHCHR revealed that 87% of Afghan women endure physical, sexual or emotional violence at some point during their lives, and that they are often pressured by family and justice officials to accept mediation even after registering violence cases with the authorities. Only 18% of such cases lead to prison sentences.
Parliament has still to ratify a law to eliminate violence against women that was drafted in 2009. In some areas, women are given away to become wives or servants as compensation to resolve disputes. One in three girls is married before she turns 18.
Efforts to reform family and divorce law have not succeeded. Discrimination and a critical shortage of lawyers mean that women are frequently unable to claim property and inheritances. Most female prisoners in Afghanistan have been jailed for so-called “moral crimes”, which can involve nothing more than running away from an abusive husband.
Despite huge gains in education and economic empowerment, only 19% of girls under 15 are literate and only 19% of women are employed – mostly in low paid and insecure jobs. Even when employed in higher skilled positions, women face routine discrimination and exclusion from decision making and promotions.
Peace talks gained momentum in 2018 after the Kabul Conference in February, an unprecedented but brief ceasefire in June and recent talks among the Taliban, High Peace Council and international actors. There is, however, much work to be done to turn these positive developments into a lasting peace, and insecurity continues to hamper the delivery and accountability of government services.
Elections held for the lower house in 2018 secured a turnout of almost 50% and required the lowest level of international assistance in Afghanistan’s history. But they were marred by more than 400 attacks on elections sites, malfunctioning biometric registration equipment and a lack of materials, staff and capacity.
Local government has yet to become sufficiently coherent or effective to meet the needs of Afghan citizens, although services now reach more people and better accountability mechanisms are in place. More work is needed on transparency, efficiency and reach, while citizens need greater opportunities to participate in planning and monitoring service delivery.
Public confidence in most institutions has declined over the last decade. Confidence in parliament dropped from 59% to 37% between 2010 and 2017, while confidence in the Independent Election Commission fell from 54% to 38% and in Provincial Councils from 62% to 48%.
Government revenues tripled over the last decade, thanks in part to improved tax collection processes and infrastructure. But income slowed during 2018 in line with falling economic growth and political uncertainty.
The Afghanistan SDGs are now in place, with nationalised targets and indicators, but there is a need to improve data and monitoring capacity and to foster commitment and active involvement across all stakeholders.
The World Bank has noted “sustained though uneven” improvements across the board over the last 15 years, including in the knowledge of healthcare workers, medical infrastructure and equipment, vaccine/drug availability, management systems, physical capacity and the quality of service provision.
In frontline areas, healthcare is provided mostly by local Afghan NGOs with government oversight and coordination. These have shown a particular ability to engage with local stakeholders and powerbrokers to negotiate continuing or improved access under the most challenging circumstances, which has contributed to improvements in healthcare indicators that have outstripped comparable countries or regions.
Thanks to government leadership, improvements have also been seen in the transparency and effectiveness of procurement and supply-chain systems, as well as the quality of national health campaigns and coordination of donor funding.
More women are entering the healthcare profession every year, including in rural areas. This has boosted access to health services for women, particularly in more conservative parts of the country, while also providing high-quality jobs and role models for the next generation.
HIV rates currently remain under 0.1 percent in the general population, with infections concentrated among high-risk groups, particularly injecting drug users.
TB is estimated at 189/100,000 population and TB-related mortality at 33/100,000. Stigma is an issue for both HIV and TB, hampering access to treatment and take up of testing services.
As of 2016, 27% of the population lives in malaria high-risk areas and 49% in medium-risk zones. Most malaria cases are found in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman.
After the boom period of the 2000s, growth declined in 2013 and has since averaged only 2% per year, largely due to the withdrawal of international forces, falls in international aid and worsening security. The effects of climate change and natural disasters on crop yields and rural employment have also affected the economy, while constraints on investment and consumer demand brought about by insecurity have encouraged illegal coping strategies, such as opium cultivation.
Growth has not kept pace with population rises of more than 3% per year, leading to a recent fall in GDP per capita. The poverty rate has risen from 36% in 2012 to 55% today and some 1.9m people are currently food insecure.
One in four Afghans of working age is unemployed and of those who do work 80% are in insecure jobs. With a young and undereducated population, the number of people looking for work with insufficient skills increases sharply each year, but the annual number of businesses starting up has dropped significantly over the last decade.
More than 2 million Afghans have returned from abroad since 2015, further pressuring the job market. Within the country, 1.7 million people have been displaced, cutting them off from previously held jobs and support networks.
Rises in poverty and unemployment have been sharpest in rural areas, where insecurity, power shortages and underinvestment continue to limit possibilities for off-farm work. Climate change-related droughts and floods have reduced crop yields and hurt incomes for the majority of Afghans who rely on the land to make a living.
Despite huge gains since 2001, women continue to be excluded from the job market, particularly in higher paying or more responsible positions. This economic dependence leads to a lack of freedom across other areas of life.
Rule of Law
More than 10,000 civilians have been killed or injured every year since since 2014, and Anti-Government Elements are estimated to control or contest more areas than at any time since 2001. Police are regularly called upon for frontline combat, making it harder to perform core policing duties.
The Ministry of Interior Affairs (MOIA) has put in place a long-term strategy to improve operations, reduce corruption and rights abuses and transform the police into an institution that can focus on dealing with law enforcement rather than counter-insurgency operations. This includes implementing new codes of conduct, strengthening mechanisms for oversight and filling a significant number of higher-level positions with professional civilians, including women in senior positions.
But no one underestimates the scale of the challenge. Corruption and impunity remain significant obstacles to progress; levels of training and incentives for recruitment are low (literacy rates, for example, are around 20%); and shortcomings in infrastructure, equipment and facilities hamper officers trying to perform their duties.
Despite efforts to train and recruit female cadets, women still make up only 2% of serving personnel and are usually restricted to lower-level roles. Those courageous enough to join the force are often denied the chance to work effectively or face harassment from colleagues in the workplace.
The overall justice system has been fragmented by 40 years of conflict and uncoordinated international assistance, resulting in a confusing patchwork of state and non-state mechanisms, especially in remote and insecure areas. These offer overlapping services, often with unclear legal status, varying levels of professionalism and questionable adherence to international human rights standards and national laws. The capacity of state justice professionals and access to justice for citizens have been further reduced by underfunding and an exodus of qualified staff, while corruption continues to limit both quality and equality of services.
Surveys consistently show insufficient levels of trust in both the police and the courts. According to 2018’s Asia Foundation Survey, although 71% of Afghans believe the police act according to the law, less than half think they respect the basic rights of suspects and 40% think they are involved in corruption. Fewer than half of Afghans think the courts provide everyone with a fair trial and almost two-thirds believe there is corruption among magistrates and judges. This trust deficit can only be reversed with reforms that deliver highly visible improvements in public safety and service delivery for all citizens.