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97 years after independence, Afghanistan tramps on in poverty

AT Special Report-KABUL: Afghans, both inside and outside of Afghanistan, celebrated the 97th Independence on Thursday with great zeal. However, we have not pondered what really independence is. Neither we are politically independent nor economically. Even we cannot think independently. The country will become independent when we are free from foreign influence, poverty and corruption. Improving economy and ending poverty is foundation to stand an independent country, in real sense.

Unfortunately, the economy has not improved. National economy is growing slowly as compared to the last year. The growth is slower when compared to the past five years. Ending unemployment and poverty by improving economy was a major focal point of the governments since 2001. The leaders have claimed drafting strategies to attract investors, introduce reforms, and support the local industries. Absence of agreement between the stakeholders, including traders, investors, leaders, policymakers and parliamentarians, is a major obstacle to overcome.

According to the Central Statistics Organization (CSO) of Afghanistan, the GDP touched $21.2 billion. The growth rate of the GDP in 2013-14 was 6.4 % and GDP per capita was $772. The Consumer price of index indicates that the level of inflation in Afghanistan was 5.6 % in 2013-14 and shows a relative decrease compared to last year which was 6.4 %.

Looking at the data at hand, it is clear that still long way is ahead to achieve economic prosperity and get rid of poverty. Though, failures are many but success has also been made in agriculture and other vital sectors. It is also clear that we cannot fight poverty in effective manner unless reforms were brought in all sectors and the issue of insecurity was addressed.

Plight of domestic workers

According to official statistics, around nine million people are jobless. Nearly, three million people are currently working. The labor law has not been enforced to protect their rights. There are some reports saying that only in government organization at least 50,000 posts are lying vacant. It would be an eye-caching progress for the government if 50,000 unemployed Afghans were recruited to fill these positions.

As per media reports, a large number of young Afghans joined insurgents due to unemployment. There is no denying to the fact that joblessness leads them to join militants. They didn’t nod for this intentionally, but unemployment forced them to take arms against their own brothers and sisters in uniform.

Poverty and unemployment had forced large number of Afghans to illegally immigrate to the European countries, despite knowing threats ahead of them.

Ministry of Refugee and Repatriation said that totally 250,000 Afghans applied for asylum in European countries in 2015. They reached there through illegal ways. They paid human traffickers to go to Turkey, Greece and other countries.

Businessmen and entrepreneurs face serious threat of abduction and murder. They were unable to work easily as they are worried about their safety. Industrial sector and trade comprise the backbone of the country’s economy, if this sector influenced by insecurity and negligence of the government then Afghanistan would not have economical growth forever.

Abdul Rahim Faizan, a businessman, said the government did not care of improvement of industry sector, adding that the government imposed more constrains against entrepreneurs equally.

“The government provides no considerable facilities for investors in the country, government recently has decreased one percent the custom tariff for crude material, but instead increased 25 percent in cost of electricity against industrial factories,” he asserted.

Mining sector

Illegal mining and plunder of the natural riches has increased manifold in the country. It seems that the current system is only for rich people.  On the pretext of insecurity and free market, the government has surrendered to the mafia groups. The bitter truth is that for several decades the leaders protected a system in which interests of rich folks are supreme.

According to reports illegal mining is rife. Warlords, armed groups and militants are digging and selling coal and gemstones on daily basis.  Workers at mines are presenting a picture of dismay. As per surveys conducted by a social group at sixty mines across Afghanistan, the most pressing challenges are child labor, low wages, abusive management practices, and absence of safety equipment, lack of food and water supplies and danger of toxic gases suffocations. The post-2001 years unfolded opportunities in almost all sectors, such as education, health, infrastructure, telecommunication, transportation, however mining sector still remains poorly organized where there corruption is endemic. The government has been playing ‘a wait and see’ policy as if it is someone else’s job to fix the problems of this sector. Illegal mining is all time high. Some powerful individuals have been busy in the plunder natural resources. Unfortunately, no major crackdown has been seen so far.

Officials in northeastern Badakhshan province say that powerful individuals continue the illegal extraction of the tourmaline mines. This illegal sordid boon has been causing loss of millions of Afghanis to our national exchequer. It is said these powerful individuals have support of insurgent Taliban and some bigwigs from the government. All this is happening in broad day light under the very nose of the government. When silence means consent, therefore the silence of the government over the illegal mining is a criminal inertia.

In a country where coordination among the government, legislature and judiciary is scarce, illegal mining, kidnappings for ransom, insecurity, illiteracy, poverty, and corruption will definitely unfold to make the collective life of the general public like a hellhole. If rule of law and accountability are not heightened, the loot and plunder in the extractive industries will go on where no one could help reduce the looting of high-value natural resources. The countries, hit by security challenges, poor governance, misuse of national wealth, corruption, kidnaps and unemployment, are somehow struggling against all these evils. However, here, one easily gets away with all these issues simply by raising his fingers at foreign elements and insurgency. These two evils don’t make you absolved rather one must fight with all his powers. In the land we live in, people consider national wealth their personal wealth as if they have received it in inheritance from their fathers and forefathers. There is no fear of law. And the reason is the selective implementation of the law. Since the government has been grappling with militancy, it must try to destroy the financial lifelines of the Taliban. Illegal mining is one among them. If militants are kept out of the income they earn from illegal mining and poppy cultivation, within one month, the nation will witness militancy reduced sizably. But the opposite is happening. They are thriving on drug money, illegal mining, funds from regional and international spy agencies, and the victim is this poor nation, which has been bearing the brunt of the war since 80s. The government will have to take some biggest decision to see the nation liberated, as it has been taken hostage.

Water and food security

According to the international organizations, around 2.5 million Afghans live below the poverty line. Nearly 1.53 million people face food insecurity and 7.53 million others are threatened by food insecurity. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans suffer from malnutrition and hunger. Skyrocketing price hike and inflation are adding to the injury. The relevant authorities did little to feed the whole population, though the target is achievable. There are a number of factors that get in the way such as flawed policies of the government and lack of financial and technical resources.

According to a survey of the International Patent Classification (IPC), in Afghanistan Ghor, Paktika, Zabul, Takhar, Bamyan, Badakhshan, Badghis, Samangan and Nuristan provinces need food aid.

Ministry of Energy and Water say that to achieve food security for Afghanistan we need water security first. It is essential to create better coordination between land and water resource management for better utilization of water and soil resources.

The Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC), a non-profit organization in Afghanistan, in its report “The 2015 Seasonal Food Security Assessment in Afghanistan (SFSA)” said that at the peak of the lean season the number of Afghans facing severe food insecurity increased from 4.7 percent of the population 12 months ago to 5.9 per cent today.

This means more than 1.5 million people are now considered severely food insecure, an increase of more than 317,000. Another 7.3 million people – more than one in every four Afghans – are classed as moderately food insecure, found the report.

Of greatest concern is the finding that the proportion of severely food insecure people who have already exhausted their capacity to cope with these emergencies has increased – meaning many more are now forced to sell land, take children out of school to work, or depend on relatives for support, it said.

The SFSA report indicates that the number of people engaged in these last ditch actions has doubled over the past year to more than 20 per cent of food insecure people across the country.

Achieving food security is not so difficult if proper measures were taken. First, the government shall devise a well-thought mechanism to manage water resources. Second, potential of agricultural lands should be increased. Third, farmers shall be educated to use fertilizer more efficiently. Adjustment in placement, timing and types of fertilizers will prove helpful. Fourth, irrigation systems shall be improved. Farmers shall be encouraged to plant crops that use less water such as wheat. Last but not least, we shall reduce the food waste.

Poverty

Poverty is a nightmare, continuously haunting over 80 percent Afghans. The decades old conflicts and loopholes in the financial and judicial systems are termed as main cause. Whatever is the key reason but it is certain that hundreds and thousands of families are battling against poverty everyday with this dream that tomorrow would be a better day. However, these dreams don’t come true due to high unemployment rate an unequal distribution of wealth.

Spokesman for Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Abdul Fatah Ahmadzai, told Afghanistan Times that generally no survey has been conducted since 2009 about unemployment in the country. He acknowledged that jobless is a big challenge in the country. He said that currently unemployment rate is 22.2 percent and 1.9 million people are jobless.

He said that ministry is working with relevant organizations to conduct fresh survey about unemployment issue in near future to rate work force as well as joblessness percentage in the country.

He insisted that different projects would be announced in different provinces in near future to create job opportunities and reduce the unemployment rate.

Lack of effective planning by authorities is major reason behind poverty as there is no decrease in the unemployment rate. Around 70 percent of the population of the country is living in the villages and associated with agriculture sector.

According to a report of the Democracy International (DI) majority of youth sees unemployment and poverty as major problems in Afghanistan.

Findings of the survey show that 82 percent of respondents see unemployment and poverty as a key challenge across the country.

According to survey reports, investment in Afghanistan has dropped by 26 percent in 2015; thus, leaving many people jobless.

The Asia Foundation in its “2015 Survey of the Afghan People” revealed that pessimism over political, security and economy affairs is at high level. The annual Asia Foundation survey covered 9,586 Afghans (50.6 percent male and 49.4 female), representing 14 ethnic groups and all 34 provinces.

The public opinion poll reveals rising concern over political transition, insecurity, and struggling economy this year as compared to last decade surveys. More than half of all Afghans (57.5% respondents) say the country is going in the wrong direction.

Afghans say unemployment (71.4%) and illiteracy (26.5%) are the two biggest problems facing their youth.

Import and exports

Spokesman to the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) Siam Pesarlai said that fortunately in the past four months exports increased and imports decreased in the country.

He said that import of goods decreased by 36 percent this year. The spokesman told Afghanistan Times that the country’s import decreased from 12 billion USD to 7 billion USD in 2016. However, he did not provide details, but said that boom was seen in the export of vegetables, fresh and dry fruits. Better packing system was another reason for increase in the export.

ACCI recently termed barriers created by neighboring countries in front of Afghan goods export and lack of government support as main challenges that negatively impacted the country’s export.

On the other hand, the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency’s spokesman, Maseh Fakhri, said that investment rate show decrease as compared to last year.

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