UN warns of new chaos in Afghanistan

Posted in Broader Middle East | 22-Feb-05 | Source: dawn.com (Pakistan)

Afghan children play around an abandoned bus outside a refugee camp in Kabul.
KABUL, Feb 21: More than three years after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban, the United Nations has painted a gloomy picture of conditions in Afghanistan and warned it could fall back into chaos if popular grievances were not met.

The first ever Afghanistan Human Development Report, released on Monday, said remarkable progress had been made since 2001 and there was room for "cautious optimism". But serious security problems remained and the country had some of the world's worst rates of life expectancy, conditions for women and children, and literacy, the United Nations said.

Unless grievances such as a lack of jobs, health care, education and political participation were addressed, "the fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos", the United Nations said in a statement accompanying the report.

If that happened, "Afghanistan will collapse into an insecure state, a threat to its own people as well as the international community", it said. The report, prepared by the UN Development Programme with government participation, said the international backers of President Hamid Karzai's government needed to take a broad and long-term view of Afghanistan's development.

"The international community is committed to fighting terrorism and drugs inside Afghanistan, but human security cannot take a back seat to national and international security interests of other nations," said editor-in-chief Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh.

Decades of conflict had taken a devastating toll, leaving Afghanistan near the bottom of the 177 countries covered in the UNDP's human development index, just above Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone, it said.

Only 28.7 per cent of Afghans over 15 could read and write and life expectancy at birth was just 44.5 years - at least 20 years lower than that in neighbouring states, and six years lower than the global average for least-developed countries.

CONDITIONS DIRE: Conditions for women and children were especially dire, with one in five children dying before the age of five and one woman dying of pregnancy-related illness every 30 minutes.

And while the economy had recovered significantly since the Taliban's overthrow, this had done little to address inequality. One in two Afghans could be classified as poor and the poorest 30 per cent received only nine percent of national income.

While millions more Afghans were back at school, the report said the education system remained the "worst in the word", with 80 per cent of schools destroyed or damaged in the years of conflict.

Afghanistan needed multi-year commitments of international aid to fund long-term development, but that needed to be carefully directed to avoid dependency and disparities and Afghans needed to be better consulted over strategies. -Reuters