For the People of Afghanistan, Things Have Gone from Bad to Worse
Continued from previous page
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama seemed to suggest that efforts to promote Afghan wellbeing had indeed been a success: “There is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in recent years -- in education, in health care and economic development, as I saw in the lights across Kabul when I landed -- lights that would not have been visible just a few years earlier.”
So, almost 10 years on, just what are the lives of ordinary Afghans like? Has childhood mortality markedly improved? Are women, if not equal in terms of civil rights, at least secure in the knowledge that men are not able to rape them with impunity? Have all Afghan children -- or even most -- started on the road to a decent education?
Or how about a more basic question? After almost a decade of war and tens of billions in international aid, do Afghans have enough to eat? I recently posed that question to Challiss McDonough of the United Nation’s World Food Program in Afghanistan.
In October 2001, the BBC reported that more than seven million people were "at risk of malnutrition or food shortages across Afghanistan.” In an email, McDonough updated that estimate: “The most recent data on food insecurity comes from the last National Risk and Vulnerability Assesment (NRVA), which was conducted in 2007/2008 and released in late October 2009. It found that about 7.4 million people are food-insecure, roughly 31 percent of the estimated population. Another 37 percent are considered to be on the borderline of food insecurity, and could be pushed over the edge by shocks such as floods, drought, or conflict-related displacement.”
Food insecurity indicators, McDonough pointed out, are heading in the wrong direction. “The NRVA of 2007/08 showed that the food security had deteriorated in 25 out of the 34 provinces compared to the 2005 NRVA. This was the result of a combination of factors, including high food prices, rising insecurity and recurring natural disasters.” As she also pointed out, “About 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford basic necessities. Staple food prices remain higher than they are in neighboring countries, and higher than they were before the global high-food-price crisis began in 2007.”
Recently, the international risk management firm Maplecroft put together a food security index -- using 12 criteria developed with the United Nations’ World Food Program -- to evaluate the threat to supplies of basic food staples in 163 countries. Afghanistan ranked dead last and was the only non-African nation among the 10 most food-insecure countries on the planet.
Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and the grim years of Taliban rule in the later 1990s, millions of Afghans fled their country. While many returned after 2001, large numbers have continued to live abroad. More than one million registered Afghans reportedly live in Iran. Another 1.5 million or more undocumented, unregistered Afghan refugees may also reside in that country. Some 1.7 million or more Afghan refugees currently live in Pakistan -- 1.5 million of them in recently flood-ravaged provinces, according to Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N.'s refugee agency .
Many Afghans who still remain in their country cannot return home either. According to a 2008 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 235,833 internally displaced persons nationwide. As of the middle of this year, the numbers had reportedly increased to more than 328,000.
In 2000, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), mortality for children under five years of age stood at 257 per 1,000. In 2008, the last year for which data was available, that number had not budged. It had, in fact, only slightly improved since 1990, when after almost a decade of Soviet occupation and brutal warfare, the numbers stood at 260 per 1,000. The figures were similar for infant mortality -- 168 per 1,000 in 1990, 165 per 1,000 in 2008.