Afghanistan is a landlocked country with an area of 652,864 km². It is situated at the hub of South Asia and Central Asia and is bordered by Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan’s land surface includes considerable mountain cover, the Hindu Kush, with peaks as high as 7,000 meters (m). At lower altitudes are large expanses of arid steppe and a significant desert region found in the southwestern plateau. Though lacking in vegetation, these drier areas of the country nonetheless support biodiverse ecosystems and unique landscapes. Afghanistan has an arid continental climate with considerable temperature and precipitation variation between seasons .
Following the withdrawal of US forces and NATO partners in August 2021, the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has a population growth rate amongst the world's highest. In 2018, the Central Statistics Organization (CSO) indicated Afghanistan’s population had increased from 23.2 million to 35.7 million between 2004 and 2017, corresponding to an average annual population growth rate of 3.3% over this period . The average age of Afghanistan's population is very young, which is the most striking feature of the country's demographic profile. Almost half of the population (47.8%) is under the age of 15, one of the highest proportions in the world and significantly higher than that of its neighbours. Older people (those aged 65 and up) account for only 2.7% of the population .
Between 2000 and 2010, Afghanistan’s urban population grew at an annual rate of almost 4.5%. Much of Afghanistan’s urban population growth has been attributed to natural growth rather than rural-urban migration. Consequently, in the same period, the share of the population living in officially classified urban settlements has been growing at a much slower pace of just over 1.2% a year. The urban area grew at more than three times the speed of the urban population, suggesting an increasing prevalence of lower-density sprawl. The existence of sprawl, poverty and slums reflects unplanned and underserved urbanisation. Afghanistan’s expanding urban population presents the country with the considerable challenge of affordable housing. In the best case scenario in which urban population density remains constant, meeting this challenge will require expanding the amount of developable urban land by 6,959 km² – or just over 350% – between 2010 and 2050 .
With an influx of aid since 2002, Afghanistan has sustained rapid economic growth and improvements for more than a decade. The annual average economic growth rate peaked between 2003 and 2012, driven by a booming aid-driven services sector. Afghanistan's economy has been thrown into chaos as a result of recent political upheavals. The Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021, wreaking havoc on an economy that was already struggling to thrive. Rapid reductions in international grant funding, loss of access to offshore assets, and financial linkage disruptions are projected to result in a substantial economic downturn, increased poverty, and macroeconomic instability. Even before the collapse of the Government, Afghanistan already faced significant economic and development issues .
Starting in April 2021, Afghanistan was hit by a third COVID-19 wave. Infection rates are at all-time highs, with only about 5% of the population fully vaccinated. Due to the combined effects of a sudden halt in donor and government expenditure, trade disruptions, and banking sector dysfunction, economic output is estimated to have dropped considerably since the Taliban took over. Over 80% of people live on less than the international poverty line (US$1.90 per day)1 to meet their basic needs . In October 2021, members of the G20 group of major economies pledged to avert an economic catastrophe in Afghanistan .
In the last two decades, the country has experienced dramatic enhancements and progress with respect to information and communication technology (ICT). For instance, in 2002, there were only 50,000 active telephone subscriptions, which represents a very small part of the population. By 2018, this number had increased to almost 23.65 million . However, despite recent progress, Afghanistan is still well behind other countries in the region from a technology and innovation perspective.
Afghanistan faces some of the highest levels of natural hazard risk in the world. This is reflected in its ranking as the 5th most at-risk country in the INFORM 2019 Index. Risk is driven by hazard exposure, notably communities face very significant impacts from flood (and associated threats from land and mudslide), and drought. Risk is further amplified by very high levels of social vulnerability and a large deficit in coping capacity . As per ANDMA reports , over the past three decades, nearly every province has been affected by at least one natural disaster .
Afghanistan is now the site of the world's deadliest conflict. Pockets of fighting continues, exposing civilians, particularly women and children, to deadly daily risks, resulting in mass displacement and choking the country's already-fragile economy.
Women in Afghanistan are disproportionately affected by different factors such as political conflict, insecurity, poverty, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Afghanistan ranked 170th out of 189 countries on the Global Gender Development Index in 2019, with a high rate of violations of women's rights. Women's rights are protected and advanced through a variety of laws, policies, national strategies, action plans, and programmes. However, their implementation is still lacking. Women and girls continue to face a high level of violence, with 87% of Afghan women having experienced some form of intimate partner violence . In addition, recent advances in female employment have been set back by the Taliban attitudes to strict Sharia laws.
- 1The Government of Afghanistan uses a different threshold for poverty (under 2064 AFS per month/$0.87 per day) to the international standard ($1.90 per day). This results in far fewer people being considered as ‘living in poverty’ under the Government’s measurement.
Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) was established in 2005 , the country’s first such entity , with the support of UNEP . The NEPA is an independent institutional entity, responsible for coordinating, monitoring conservation and rehabilitation of the environment, and the implementation of the Environment Law .
Protection of the natural environment is the responsibility of the state, as enshrined in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In 2007, Afghanistan approved the Environment Law, which established the regulatory framework for the sustainable use and management of Afghanistan’s natural resources base, and provides for the conservation and rehabilitation of the environment towards achieving the country’s social, economic, reconstruction, and ecological development goals .
As per the Environment Law, the National Environmental Advisory Council (NEAC) has been established to advise NEPA on financial matters, regulatory matters, and environmental matters of public interest. In addition to NEAC, the Committee for Environmental Coordination (CEC) is constituted to promote the integration and coordination of environmental issues and fundamental principles of the law at the central level as well as at provincial level. The CEC is composed of representatives of line ministries, national institutions, provincial councils, and district and village councils. Additional inter-ministerial coordination mechanisms established for environmental governance in Afghanistan include the Subnational Environment Advisory Councils (SEACs), Parliamentary Committee on the Environment (PCE), National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), Afghanistan Wildlife Executive Committee (AWEC), Biodiversity Working Group (BWG), and Protected Area Working Group (PAWG) .
Afghanistan is also a signatory to several environmental agreements .
The European Union (EU) has had a long-term commitment to support the people of Afghanistan on their path towards peace, security, and prosperity. The EU's overall strategic objectives in the implementation of development aid in Afghanistan have been defined by the 2014-2020 Multiannual Indicative Programme, which focused on three priority sectors: (i) peace, stability, and democracy; (ii) sustainable growth and jobs; and (iii) basic social services.
These priorities are in line with the Afghan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF), the Government's five-year strategic development plan aimed at reaching the country's ultimate goal of self-sufficiency. The EU is a key contributor to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which helps the Government establish and improve institutions while also giving crucial support to the poorest Afghans. Aside from that, the EU assists Afghanistan in various ways such as health, agriculture and agro-business, the rule of law, public finance management, reintegration of migrants, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Afghanistan also receives funds from the EU's thematic budgets, regional programmes, and special measures, in addition to the aforementioned assistance .
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, announced a €1 billion support package for the Afghan people and neighbouring countries during the G20 summit on Afghanistan, addressing the country's and region's critical needs. The declaration comes after a meeting of EU Development Ministers to explore a calibrated strategy to provide direct support to the Afghan people to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe without legitimising the Taliban interim administration. The Afghan support package combines EU humanitarian aid with the provision of targeted basic needs assistance to Afghans and neighbouring nations. Some €300 million for humanitarian purposes is included in the package. This humanitarian assistance is accompanied by extra, specialized assistance in vaccinations, shelters, civilian protection, and human rights .
Afghanistan is one of the countries most affected by climate change. Since the 1950s, the average annual temperature has risen by 1.8°C, with the central and southwestern regions having experienced the highest temperature increases compared to the national average . Heavy rainfall events have increased by 10-25% over the past 30 years . The analysis of precipitation patterns shows that spring precipitation has decreased by up to a third, while winter precipitation has increased slightly. Because spring crops are typically rain-fed crops, a 33% decrease in spring precipitation means lower agricultural yields, which in an agriculture-based economy like Afghanistan can lead to significant economic hardships. In addition, Afghanistan faces some of the highest levels of natural hazard risk in the world . The most common hazards are floods, earthquakes, and epidemics .
Afghans have found themselves caught in a vicious cycle of climate change and conflict for over 40 years, with at least 14 million people, around 35% of Afghanistan’s population, already facing acute food insecurity before the Taliban takeover, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) .
Afghanistan's air quality is considered unsafe. According to the most recent data, the country's annual mean PM2.5 concentration is more than five times higher than the recommended maximum of 10 g/m3 . Industrial pollution, vehicle emissions, and low-quality fuel are all factors that contribute to Afghanistan's poor air quality . Environment-related deaths account for 26% of all deaths in Afghanistan, according to WHO estimates. Household air pollution is estimated to cause over 27,000 deaths per year in Afghanistan, while ambient air pollution (outdoor) causes over 11,000 deaths per year. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to household air pollution because they spend more time at home than men .
In addition, 80% of Afghanistan's drinking water is polluted, a problem that frequently leads to food poisoning, especially of children. Low rainfall, irregular groundwater use, and insufficient infrastructure in Afghan cities are among the main causes of drinking water pollution .
Lack of access to water and sanitation in Afghanistan contributes to increased diarrhoeal disease prevalence. In the country, diarrhoeal diseases cause an estimated 10,000 deaths per year and 2,971 Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs, the number of years lost due to illness, disability, or premature death) per 100,000 people, the majority of whom are children under the age of five .
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