Afghans wealthier, remain among poorest
By Killid correspondents
KABUL - The billions of dollars in aid pumped into Afghanistan over the past
few years and billions more in investment have helped to drive up average
incomes more than sixfold since 2004. Yet the country remains one of the
The average income of Afghan workers has jumped to $426 a year from $70 since
2004, says Aziz Shams, spokesperson of the Ministry of Finance. In the past two
years, poverty has declined from 42% to 36%, according to Fardin Sediqi, chief
of the Methodology and Supervision Department of the Ministry of Economy.
Afghanistan's annual revenue has also surged, to $803 million
from $207 million in 2003, and is expected to reach $1 billion this year, Shams
On top of this is the $62 billion pledged to Afghanistan by the international
community since 2002, of which $35.4 billion has been recieved. Of this amount,
$8 billion went to the Afghan government and the rest has been spent directly
by the donor countries for Afghanistan or by non-government organizations.
Noorullah Delawari, president of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, a
World Bank-funded private initiative, says that Afghanistan attracted
investments worth $3.8 billion between 2002 and 2006, of which 27% came from
foreign investors and the rest from local entrepreneurs and business groups.
Delawari notes, however, that investments into Afghanistan have been on the
decline in the past three years. He did not give details.
The seemingly improving economic outlook has yet to translate into dragging
Afghanistan from the foot of most measures of poverty.
The nation still ranks the second poorest, after Niger in West Africa, among
the 182 countries considered in the 2009 Human Development Report prepared by
the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Within the UNDP's human poverty index for 135 countries that fall below certain
threshold levels based on the different dimensions of the human development
index such as healthy life, Afghanistan ranks at the bottom.
The index shows that 40.7% of the estimated 25 million Afghans are not expected
to live more than 40 years, 72% are illiterate, 78% do not have access to clean
water and 39% of children under five years old are underweight, while the
economic possibilities of an additional 20% of the population are deemed
Oxfam, the British-based non-governmental organization, says that one in five
children die before his or her fifth birthday.
Conceding that "widespread poverty" afflicts Afghanistan, deputy minister of
agriculture Saleem Khan Kunduzi says the reasons for this are "the ongoing
insecurity, growing poppy cultivation, lack of job opportunities and continued
To what extent these are feeding into poverty is also not clear. For instance,
there appears to be no significant impact of drought on famine - one of the
major ills afflicting Afghanistan - based on data from the Ministry of Water
Of the country's yearly 80 billion cubic meters (cu m) of water, only 30
billion cu m serve the country's needs and 50 billion cu m go to neighboring
countries, officials of the ministry said. Yet mismanagement of Afghanistan's
water resources appears to be at the heart of the incidence of diseases known
to be triggered by polluted waters.
On top of improving the provision of basic services to the Afghan people to
mitigate the impact of poverty, Khan Jan Alokozai, deputy president of the
International Chamber of Commerce, sees the need to address an export-import
"For the last couple of decades, Afghanistan has been a heavy consumer of
products imported from neighboring countries," he says. Between 2000 and 2008,
Afghanistan's export gross income grew from $300 million to $700 million, in
stark contrast to the import value of $6 billion every year during the same
period, says Alokozai.
Key to development is agriculture, which, if neglected, could result in a deep
recession that would in turn lead to inflation, says the World Bank.
Agriculture has not been a development priority for the Afghan government over
the past eight years, says Speen Jan Lalahand, lecturer and member of the
Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Kabul. This, he says, explains why
no agricultural project has been successfully implemented in the country.
Improving exports could be a prime source of revenue for agricultural
producers, he stresses.
Deputy minister Kunduzi believes that lack of adequate manpower is fueling
underdevelopment in agriculture. According to Mohammad Ramin Atiqzad, secretary
general of the Central Statistics Office of Afghanistan, 80% of Afghans depend
on farming activities as their main sources of livelihood.
Kunduzi adds that much of the cultivatable land in Afghanistan is now unused.
Of this fallow land, 2.1 million hectares are irrigable and 1.5 million are
Still, he is optimistic about the prospects for increased agricultural produce
such as rice, corn, vegetable and fruits in the coming years. To implement a
five-year-plan in this direction, the agriculture ministry needs $8 billion,
says Kunduzi, half of which should be spent on rebuilding and rehabilitating
irrigation systems and dams, while the rest should go to animal husbandry
Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development
(MRRD) is now looking forward to the next five years and a $1.5 billion
development plan for small-scale undertakings.
Since 2001, the MRRD has channeled $1 billion to local initiatives. According
to Wais Barmak, the MRRD deputy minister, more than $800 million have been
spent on 50,000 small-scale projects throughout Afghanistan, with funding
delivered to 22,000 local administrative councils in 34 provinces.
"In addition, we have supported micro-finance projects that helped many rural
women to start their own businesses, the reconstruction of small roads and
potable water distribution," he said.
(Killid is an independent Afghan media group. Inter Press Service and Killid
have been partners since 2004.)