2/21/2005

UN warns of potential chaos in Afghanistan

From Reuters:
More than three years after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban, the United Nations has painted a gloomy picture of conditions in Afghanistan and warned it could fall back into chaos if popular grievances were not met. The first ever Afghanistan Human Development Report, released on Monday, said remarkable progress had been made since 2001 and there was room for "cautious optimism." But serious security problems remained and the country had some of the world's worst rates of life expectancy, conditions for women and children, and literacy, the United Nations said. Unless grievances such as a lack of jobs, health care, education and political participation were addressed, "the fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos," the United Nations said in a statement accompanying the report. If that happened, "Afghanistan will collapse into an insecure state, a threat to its own people as well as the international community," it said.
Only 28.7 percent of Afghans over 15 could read and write and life expectancy at birth was just 44.5 years -- at least 20 years lower than that in neighboring states, and six years lower than the global average for least developed countries.
Conditions for women and children were especially dire, with one in five children dying before the age of five and one woman dying of pregnancy-related illness every 30 minutes.
And while the economy had recovered significantly since the Taliban's overthrow, this had done little to address inequality.
One in two Afghans could be classified as poor and the poorest 30 percent received only nine percent of national income.
While millions more Afghans were back at school, the report said the education system remained the "worst in the word," with 80 percent of schools destroyed or damaged in the years of conflict.
"The overwhelming majority of people expressed their sense of pessimism and fear that reconstruction had bypassed the ordinary Afghan," the United Nations said of those consulted in preparing the report.
The United States was spending $1 billion a month to fight the war on terrorism, far less that was being spent to curb the poverty that can breed militancy, it said. "Sustained peace in Afghanistan is not guaranteed despite the early successes in state-building."

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