Afghanistan faces enormous recovery needs after three decades of war, civil unrest and recurring natural disasters. Despite recent progress, millions of Afghans still live in severe poverty with a crumbling infrastructure and a landscape that is suffering from environmental damage. This rugged, landlocked country remains one of the poorest in the world, with more than half the population living below the poverty line.
Nearly one-third of Afghanistan's people are food-insecure, which means they cannot get enough nutritious food to support an active, healthy lifestyle.
The 2007-2008 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) found that 7.4 million people – nearly a third of the population – are unable to get enough food to live active, healthy lives. Another 8.5 million people, or 37 percent, are on the borderline of food insecurity. Around 400,000 people each year are seriously affected by natural disasters, such as droughts, floods, earthquakes or extreme weather conditions.
In 2008, Afghanistan was hit by both drought and globally high food prices, which saw the price of wheat and wheat products increase dramatically across the country. Despite prices beginning to fall in 2009, they remained higher than normal, and began to rise again in mid-2010, causing new hardship for the poorest Afghans.
Insecurity is a major and growing concern. Insurgent activity and military operations have affected food security in some regions, undermined reconstruction efforts and restricted humanitarian interventions.
Environmental degradation is also a severe problem. War, uncontrolled grazing, pastureland encroachment, illegal logging and the loss of forest and grass cover have worsened drought conditions and reduced agricultural productivity.
While life expectancy has increased slightly to 44.5 years for men and 44 for women, many of the country’s health indicators are alarming. Along with a high infant mortality rate, Afghanistan suffers from one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world (1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births). More than half of children under the age of five are malnourished, and micronutrient deficiencies (particularly iodine and iron) are widespread.
The formal education sector is slowly improving, but progress is hampered by a shortage of qualified teachers, poor facilities and threats posed by insurgents. Even so, over two-thirds of school-age children attend school. Girls, banned from school under the Taliban regime, are gradually returning to the classroom, but 70 percent are still not enrolled. Adult literacy rates remain low, at 43 percent for men and 14 percent for women.