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How successful we are in the fight against poverty?

By Akhtar M. Nikzad

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.

Habiba Danish, a member of the Lower House of the parliament from Takhar province, blames the government for poverty as the MP says that lack of effective planning by authorities is major reason behind poverty as there is no decrease in the unemployment rate. Danish also held the civil wars in the country responsible for miseries of Afghans who are living behind poverty line.

She said that so far 70 percent of the population of the country is living in the villages and associated with agriculture sector. “If the government carves out a comprehensive strategy to combat poverty the day is not far when financial status of all Afghans will improve.”

According to her unemployment is another major factor, particularly in the remote areas of the country, because four million people are jobless.

Three decades of civil war destroyed the infrastructures and displaced millions of people. Wars greatly damaged the national economy. War is the main factor responsible for poverty and unemployment, because insecurity threatens traders and keeps them away from investment. If there is no investment, ultimately there would be less or no jobs and the gross domestic product as well as per capita income would be low. Hence, for many economic experts conflict is the basic reason responsible for poverty in the country. Poppy cultivation is also the product of wars.

According to a report about agricultural challenges, drought, natural disaster including floods, plant diseases and massive-scale attack of grasshoppers are main reasons impeding development of the agriculture sector.

As per official reports, illiteracy is another cause of poverty. However, the government picked up steady steps in education sector but still children stays in unfavorable situation. Data of the Ministry of Education shows that so far about ten million children go to school but still three million children which most of them are girls are deprived of this very right.

Effects of poverty are quite dangerous. According to the survey of Independent Human Rights Commission, cultivation of opium and production of narcotic resulted in addiction of more than 1.3 million people. Among them 300,000 addicts are children.

Agriculture is the most important sector in Afghanistan as for around half of the population it is the only and key source of income, but despite efforts of international partners for over one decade and encouragement of the government for alternative cultivation, there is no satisfactory decline in poppy cultivation.

Hisamuddin Hamrah, Deputy Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Disables and Martyrs (MoLSADM) said to media recently that unemployment rate in Afghanistan increased about 16% and so far about 4.5 million people are jobless.

He termed the reasons of unemployment as lack of productive firms and investment in mining sector.

Ministry of Mines and Petroleum said that the total cost of Afghanistan mines resources estimated three trillion dollars.

Islamuddin Jurat, spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), said the ministry has no exact data available about Afghan immigrants but based on a survey conducted in 2011, daily 50,000 Afghans leave the country through Torkham, Islam Qala and Spin Boldak.

He said that 40 percent of the population is in search of jobs. “Repatriation of Afghan refugees to the country was very remarkable in 2001 up to 2007. We can say that annually one million Afghan refugees returned home, but after 2007 repatriation reduced,” he said.

He termed lack of job opportunities, droughts and insecurity are main reasons behind disappointment of the returnees who are in the quest to leave the country once again.

According to the MoRR, so far around 1,600,000 Afghan with document and approximately one million without document live in Pakistan as well as about less than one million people with document and 1,400,000 without documents live in Iran. Around half of million Afghan stay in 73 other countries of the world.

We are not utilizing the human resource which is vital for growth of economic sector. If the government wants to strengthen the national economy then it has to repatriate the Afghans living in the neighboring countries.

Economic experts believe that Afghanistan has the capacity of food production for around 180 million people but the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MoAIL) failed to make the country self-sufficient in the past 13 years. The country needs annually about 7 million metric tons of food.

According to the MoAIL wheat production was 2.5 million tons in 2002 which increased to 3.5 million tons in 2013. Production of wheat was recorded as 3.5 million tons in 2002 but increased to 5.5 million tons in 2013.

Cultivable land—mostly used for growing wheat—expanded from 2.3 million hectares to 2.5 million hectares in 2012. The rice production was around 260,000 tons in 2002 but increased 500,000 tons on 2012.

However, the Central Statistics Organization (CSO) of Afghanistan issued a fresh report saying that agricultural data in the year 2013-14 indicates that wheat production was 5.2 million metric tons. This indicates 2.4 % increase in wheat production as compared to the previous year.  Areas under wheat, rice and other cereals cultivation in 2013-14 increased by 27,667 hectare compared to previous year.

According to CSO, 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.

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