By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - Against the backdrop of an escalating military conflict, Afghanistan is facing a rash of new problems, including increased poverty, widespread corruption, a breakdown in the rule of law and a paralysed judiciary, according to a new report released here.
On the global Human Development Index (HDI), Afghanistan is ranked 174 out of 178 countries, while the Human Poverty Index describes the country as "one of the worst in the world", far below Mali, which is considered one of the poorest of the world's poor.
"Afghanistan has received 12 billion $ in aid but there aren't any signs of serious reconstruction. Our people have not benefited from the billions of reconstruction dollars due to theft by the warlords or misuse by NGOs. Even a fraction of this aid has not been used for the benefit and welfare of our people. Government corruption and fraud directs billions of dollars into the pockets of high-ranking officials. It is such a big shame that the government still cannot provide electricity, food and water for its people."
Zoya's Speech, Oct.7, 2006
The HDI, which is a brainchild of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), is a composite indicator that measures education, longevity and economic performance.
The 176-page Human Development Report 2007, authored by the Centre for Policy and Human Development at Kabul University, portrays a stark picture of the economic and social conditions in a battle ravaged country struggling for survival, six years after the repressive Taliban regime was ousted from power.
Commissioned by UNDP, the study says that although Afghans have made tremendous progress in human development since 2002, "the country is not progressing enough in most sectors", with "dire consequences for the poor and the vulnerable."
A number of factors contribute to the low HDI value for Afghanistan: 6.6 million Afghans do not meet their minimum food requirements.
Overall, the worst affected are women and children. The facts are staggering: 60,000 children in Afghanistan are addicted to drugs, and another 100,000 are disabled and otherwise severely affected physically due to prolonged conflicts in the country.
Additionally, there are about 8,000 former child soldiers while an estimated one million are child labourers between seven and 14 years of age.
At the same time, there are over 37,000 children who work and beg in the streets of Kabul alone, some 80 percent of them boys, 36 percent of whom are aged 8-10 years.
The study also says that the "high level of discrimination" against Afghan women is reflected in the fact that female victims and defendants are often denied equal and fair access to justice because traditionally they are rarely able to register cases themselves.
Still, despite decades of war suffering, Afghanistan has been making progress in achieving some of its development goals, according to the study.
The GDP per capita (in purchasing power parity terms) has increased from 683 dollars in 2002 to 964 dollars in 2005.
An additional 132,000 square kilometres of land was cleared of landmines in 2006. The number of telephone users has leapt to about 2.5 million (or 10 percent of the population) while school enrolment has grown in the past five years: from about 900,000 to nearly 5.4 million.
The prevalence of malaria and tuberculosis has dropped dramatically, according to the study. Still, Afghanistan ranks 17 out of the 22 countries with the highest tuberculosis levels.
"The soil, water and the forests-- the basis of livelihood for most Afghans-- have been degraded severely due to excessive demands from agriculture and household energy use."
To reverse this trend, the government in Kabul has ratified a new Environmental Law.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's U.S.-installed President, Hamid Karzai, told the General Assembly Tuesday his country is facing "momentous challenges", including terrorism and narcotics.
He singled out the sharp increase in terrorist attacks -- including "new and brutal tactics such as beheadings, kidnappings and the burnings of schools" -- as hampering the social and economic progress of the country.
Reaffirming his observations, the HDI study said that one of the major challenges to the expansion of the rule of law is the "ever-expanding narcotics trade" in Afghanistan.
Opium production was estimated at about 6,100 tons in 2006, representing an increase of about 49 percent from 2005.
Opium in Afghanistan is worth around 3.1 billion dollars annually or almost 50 percent of the country's legal gross domestic product (GDP), according to the report.
"The Afghan economy is far more dependent on the production, refinement and export of narcotics than any other in the world, with per capita income from narcotics exceeding official development assistance (ODA)."
One of the biggest concerns is the fragile state of the country's security, which is having a negative impact on development.
The troops both from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which are in occupation of large parts of Afghanistan, have shifted from the south to the east in response to increased attacks from Taliban forces.
A new U.N. report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released last week, says ISAF/NATO coalition forces, mostly led by the United States, have grown from 18,500 troops in July 2006 to the current 39,500 from 37 countries.
The security will continue to remain in the hands of the coalition forces because the Afghan national security forces and the Afghan national police "are currently inadequate in both number and professionalism."
The secretary-general also said that the "worsening security conditions and the absence of a consistent rule of law" have had "a negative effect on the enjoyment of human rights in Afghanistan, especially the right to life and security, free movement, access to education and health and access to livelihood by communities."
At a U.N. press conference last week, Tom Koenigs, the secretary-general's special representative in Afghanistan, said it was "untrue" that President Karzai's reach was limited to Kabul. He said the president appointed all 34 of the country's governors and none had disobeyed his directives so far.
The government in Kabul was gaining overall, Koenigs, said, even though its hold was still weak in some provinces.