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Afghanistan - The Facts

Gulbuddin Elham / AINA PHOTO AGENCY / AFGHANISTAN www.ainaphoto.org

Map of Afghanistan


•  Population: 22 million (est); 14 million are under 181
•  More than 2 million Afghans live in Iran and Pakistan
•  Main ethnic groups: Pashtun (45%), Tajik (25%), Hazara (10%), Uzbek (8%)2
•  Official languages: Pashto and Dari2

•  Life expectancy is 433 (UK 79)
•  Only 23% of the population has access to safe drinking water; 12% to sanitation1
•  Every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies in childbirth.4 Maternal mortality is the second highest in the world at 1,800 per 100,000 (UK 8)1

•  39% of under-5s are malnourished1
•  54% of under-5s suffer from severe stunting1
•  1 in 4 children die before reaching their fifth birthday1

•  28% of adults are literate3
•  60% (2 million) primary school children are out of school – 1.3 million of them are girls1
•  40% of schools have usable school buildings5


Conflict is intensifying. Almost half the country is considered inaccessible by the UN.
In the first six months of 2008:
•  Some 2,500 lives were lost as a result of conflict.
•  Insurgent attacks were up by 50% compared with the same period in 2007.
•  International military air-strikes were up by 40%.
•  Civilian deaths leapt by two-thirds to almost 700. Of these an estimated 60% were killed by Taliban and other anti-government forces, 40% by coalition and government forces.6

There are no reliable figures for the number of Afghans killed since 2001, as official records were not kept until recently. They certainly total many thousands.
NATO/US-led coalition deaths of foreign military have been recorded and total over 900: US casualties are the highest (568+); followed by UK (114+) and Canada (89+).7

Massoud Hussaini / AINA PHOTO AGENCY / AFGHANISTAN www.ainaphoto.org

Afghanistan is currently the largest narco-economy the world has ever known. In 2007 it produced 93% of the world’s opium, bringing some $3 billion of illicit funds into the economy, fuelling corruption as well as (allegedly) funding the Taliban.11
•  One in seven Afghans is involved in the opium trade; in Helmand province it’s four out of five.12

The number of foreign troops on
Afghan soil reached 70,000 in mid-2008:

Troop numbers

NATO-led international forces (ISAF)8
•  In addition, there are 14,000 US troops who are not part of the NATO force.8
•  There are 63,000 Afghan National Army troops, trained to fight the insurgents.8
•  At any time the Taliban can field up to 10,000 fighters, but only 2,000-3,000 are full-time insurgents; 5-10% of these are reckoned to be foreigners.9

The Taliban are not the sole or even always the predominant threat to Afghans

Other security threats


Devastated by 30 years of conflict, Afghanistan depends on aid for 90% of its public spending.13

Yet development aid is dwarfed by military spending:
•  US military spending – $100 million a day
•  International aid provided by all donors – $7 million a day13

Afghanistan has received comparatively little aid per person:13
Aid received per capita in the two years following military intervention:

Afghanistan – $57
Timor L’Este – $233
Bosnia – $679

Aid received per capita in the two years following military intervention

International donors have committed to spending $25 billion on reconstruction and development since 2001. But there is an aid shortfall of $10 billion – equivalent to 30 times the country’s education budget.13

Shortfall on money committed for 2002-08:
•  The US still owes 50% of its $10.4 billion commitment.
•  The World Bank owes almost 50% of its $1.6 billion commitment.
•  France and Spain have made scant contributions – Spain delivering just 10% of the $0.25 billion it promised.

Others have done better:
•  Japan, Canada and Britain have met 90% of their pledges – Britain delivering $1.3 of $1.45 billion.13

Of the $15 billion that has been spent, some 40% – $6 billion since 2001 – has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries.13

Local vs Foreign staff salaries

Most full-time, expatriate engineers, consultants or mercenaries working in private consulting companies cost $250,000-$500,000 a year. On average they are paid 200 times as much as local staff.

USAID allocates nearly half of its funds to five large US contractors: KBR, Louis Berger Group, Chemonics International, BearingPoint, Dyncorp (see page 20).

In some large contracts there are up to five layers of subcontractors, each of which usually takes between 10-20% – and in some cases up to 50% – on any given contact.13
•  A short stretch of road between Kabul centre and the airport was contracted to the Louis Berger Group which subcontracted it to the Afghan Reconstruction Company. It ended up costing $2.4 million per km, at least four times the average cost for road construction in Afghanistan.13,14

•  Over half of all aid is tied, requiring the procurement of donor-country goods and services.
•  NGOs receive only 10-15% of all aid to Afghanistan, yet are providing a vital role in grassroots rural development.
•  Two-thirds of aid bypasses the Afghan Government.
•  Profit margins on reconstruction contracts are often 20% – and can be as high as 50%.13,14


Liberating the women of Afghanistan was one of the reasons given for invading the country and toppling its Taliban Government. There has been some progress in the struggle for women’s and girls’ rights – but there is still a long way to go:
•  30% of girls have access to education4
•  70-80% of women face forced marriages4
•  1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence4
•  43% of males are literate; fewer than 13% of females are15
•  The number of teachers has grown seven-fold; 28% of them are women, mainly located in urban areas5

Gulbuddin Elham / AINA PHOTO AGENCY / AFGHANISTAN www.ainaphoto.org

  1. UNICEF 2008.
  2. ITEM, The World Guide, 2007.
  3. UNDP, UN Development Report 2007/8
  4. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
  5. Afghanistan Ministry of Education website http://www.moe.gov.af 10 April 2008.
  6. The Independent, quoting figures from ACBAR in ‘Afghanistan spiralling back to days  of the Taliban say charities’, 1 August 2008.
  7. Reuters, ‘Foreign military deaths as a result of violence or accidents in Afghanistan since 2001’, 7 August 2008.
  8. NATO www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/isaf_placemat.pdf
  9. New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/world/asia/30afghan.html
  10. Matt Waldman/Oxfam International, ‘Community Peacebuilding in Afghanistan’, 2008.
  11. Reuters, Kabul, 6 August 2008.
  12. Kate Clark/BBC Radio 4, ‘File on 4’, 24 June 2008.
  13. Matt Waldman/ACBAR Advocacy Series, ‘Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan’, March 2008.
  14. The Center for Public Integrity, Windfalls of War http://projects.publicintegrity.org/wow/default.aspx
  15. Afghanistan Online http://www.afghan-web.com/