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New Initiative to Combat Poverty in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is on the brink of disaster. Immediately after the United States’ exit from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban assumed full power, seizing the nation’s capital, Kabul. Just months later, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that Afghanistan’s $20 billion economy could shrink by 20%, plunging the nation further into poverty. However, the international community is not turning a blind eye. Instead, UNDP has launched a new initiative to combat poverty in Afghanistan.

UNDP Launches ABADEI

In October 2021, UNDP launched the Area-based Approach for Development Emergency Initiatives, also known as ABADEI. ABADEI is a new initiative to combat poverty in Afghanistan and is a part of a broad effort to “operationalize a basic human needs approach within the complex and fast-evolving context of Afghanistan.” UNDP explains the ABADEI strategy best, stating that ABADEI “provides an articulation of investments in basic services, livelihoods and community resilience that complement humanitarian efforts by helping households, communities and the private sector cope with the adverse effects of the crisis.”

Specifically, ABDEI has the backing of a Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan. UNDP created this special trust fund in October 2021 to provide cash assistance to Afghans in dire need, independent of a third party. Germany was the first country to financially commit to the trust fund, pledging nearly $60 million. The trust fund has since grown to more than $170 million in December 2021.

ABADEI, then, is the strategy that directs the flow of the money. Under the ABADEI initiative, program coordinators will implant funds into the community in four main ways.

4 Main Funding Channels

  1. Allotting grants to microbusinesses. A 2019 OECD report on private sector development and entrepreneurship in Afghanistan estimates that entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for nearly 99% of businesses in the country. The report also states that “with foreign assistance declining and the country still struggling to attract private investment from abroad, Afghan entrepreneurs and SMEs will have to be the engines for much of the needed development.” This first goal particularly seeks to assist women-owned businesses as women face disproportionate impacts of poverty during times of crisis. Under ABADEI, program coordinators will distribute cash in local currency and assess needs with the help of local community leaders. The U.N. hopes that the direct injection of cash will help keep local economies from collapsing.
  2. Cash-for-work projects. The second goal of the initiative is to provide “short-term income to the unemployed.” USAID data from November 2021 indicates that nearly 40% of Afghans endure poverty. In 2020, before the Taliban took over, unemployment stood at slightly less than 12%. Although there is no official number for the rising unemployment rate, reports indicate that people are resorting to selling their own possessions to survive.
  3. Financial support to at-risk populations. The director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Qu Dongyu, states that women, young children and the elderly are at risk of starvation during the winter in Afghanistan. To mitigate these impacts, ABADEI seeks to provide a “temporary basic income” to the at risk-populations of Afghanistan.
  4. Strengthening natural disaster resilience. Afghanistan is prone to natural disasters including flooding, earthquakes, landslides and droughts. ABADEI will help Afghanistan mitigate such disasters by funding the “rehabilitation of canals” and other “flood protection” strategies to safeguard farming land from the destruction of floods. By preemptively protecting farmland, ABADEI aims to reduce the risk of increasing food insecurity in the nation.

Looking Ahead

Achim Steiner, a UNDP administrator, said at a press conference that “ABADEI is a concrete contribution to the efforts of the United Nations to protect the hard-won development gains achieved over the past 20 years and prevent further deterioration of Afghanistan’s fragile local economy.” Though the future of Afghanistan is unclear and the country faces numerous challenges, ABADEI stands as a new initiative to combat poverty in Afghanistan, marking an integral first step in the international community’s efforts to safeguard the well-being of Afghans after the Taliban takeover.

– Richard Vieira
Photo: Flickr

Universal Poverty in Afghanistan
According to the UNDP, 97% of Afghanistan could be in poverty by 2022. This would be a quick plummet considering current UNDP data shows that only 54.5% of Afghans live below the poverty line. This is not particularly good either but is significantly better than the predicted more than doubled rate. This drastic predicted change is a result of a combination of things. Food prices and food insecurity are skyrocketing while economic and essential services experiencing interruption. COVID-19 is still prevalent and presents an active struggle. Those in rural communities and poor urban areas are feeling these problems quickest and hardest. If drastic change does not occur soon, there will undoubtedly be universal poverty in Afghanistan.

UNDP Predictions

The political turmoil of the Taliban resuming power, paired with economic and humanitarian issues, is creating a “full-on development collapse,” according to UNDP regional director Kanni Wagnaria. The UNDP’s 97% prediction is a worst-case scenario.

The prediction is based on 2018 estimates of the country’s GDP declining between 3.6% and 13.2% in the 2022 fiscal year. This depends on how the crisis continues and how other economies interact with the new Taliban leadership. This is a huge contrast to the previously predicted 4% GDP growth under the previous Afghan government.

Local Area-Based Programme

In response to these predictions, the UNDP has created a proposal of strategies to intervene and improve the current living conditions for those in poverty in Afghanistan. The “Local Area-Based Programme,” has four core elements: “provision of essential services, community-based livelihoods and local economies, disaster and climate-resilient response and social cohesion and inclusion participatory processes.”

The major goal of the program is to support approximately 9 million impoverished people over the course of 24 months. Another goal is to ensure the prediction of universal poverty in Afghanistan does not occur.

Local community groups, NGOs and small businesses will lead and implement this program. Within the plan, the most vulnerable would benefit significantly from cash-for-work grants for small and medium businesses and specifically within women-owned businesses. Households including children, the elderly and those with disabilities would receive a temporary basic income as well. There will also be assistance for natural disaster mitigation such as flood protection for farmlands.

ABADEI

The UNDP officially launched the program called ABADEI in October 2021. The primary goal is providing “immediate humanitarian assistance” while keeping the local economies moving. The first priority of the program is to help the people of Afghanistan meet their basic needs, with a focus on health and food security. As it raises more funds and receives more donations, ABADEI will be able to move into other priorities outlined in UNDP’s intervention strategies.

A significant indicator of outcome in the coming months and into 2022 will be how Afghanistan will do in the coming months and how the Taliban chooses to lead the country. The Taliban should be able to avoid the possible universal poverty in Afghanistan but it must make the decision to do so.

As of early September 2021, the Taliban had not reopened government offices. This is leading to many other industries such as banks and universities remaining closed as well, according to the UNDP. This has led to unstable employment and grave uncertainty among most of the country.

Additionally, expectations have determined that the Taliban could restrict capital, likely leading to inflation. This would reduce purchasing power and cause food prices to rise. The number of people below the poverty line would be even higher.

Much of what will happen to Afghanistan is relatively uncertain, yet rather imminent. Nevertheless, there are organizations such as UNDP that are being proactive and involved before universal poverty in Afghanistan becomes reality.

– Alex Mauthe
Photo: Unsplash