Combating Poverty Amidst Political Transition in AfghanistanFrom the beginning of the war in 2001 to the recent political transition beginning in 2021, Afghanistan has seen significant economic fluctuations and an upward trend in the national poverty rate, despite periods of economic growth. For instance, the World Bank estimated that at least a third of the Afghan population was living in poverty and unable to afford basic necessities between 2007 and 2012. Yet, the country’s GDP steadily grew at a rate of 6.9% annually during those years. A rising Gini coefficient of almost 2% from 2007 to 2012 indicates that inequality has contributed to the country’s sustained high poverty rate, which has continued to grow amidst the recent political transition in Afghanistan.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), an alarming 49.4% of Afghan citizens were already living below the national poverty line in 2020. With the political transition sparking a 20.7% contraction in the country’s GDP in 2021, the World Bank has reported that more than 65% of households in Afghanistan “could not afford food and other basic non-food items” by the middle of 2022. Fortunately, the international community remains committed to aiding the millions in need amidst the ongoing political transition in Afghanistan. 

The Past and Present of Poverty in Afghanistan

Historically, poverty has most heavily impacted rural areas in Afghanistan. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Poverty Status Update, some 80% of the country’s impoverished resided in rural communities as of 2011-2012, with more than 50% of poor Afghans being concentrated in the remote regions of East, Northeast and Central Afghanistan. These regions have been particularly vulnerable to political, economic and climactic shocks and have assumed an inordinate share of the burden that poverty poses to the country as a whole.      

For example, the 2015 report, prepared by the World Bank and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Economy, noted that poor households were both more susceptible to and less able to recover from financial shocks, which affected 84% of Afghan households in 2011-2012. Furthermore, 75.6% of impoverished Afghans age 15 and older were illiterate, while 41% of those already living in poverty were underemployed and more than 84% were engaged in vulnerable forms of employment, such as agriculture. In addition to lacking access to education and employment opportunities, the country’s predominantly rural poor also lack equal access to basic services: in 2011-12, only 63.8% had electricity, 40.3% had potable water and 2.8% had basic sanitation, percentages significantly lower than among Afghanistan’s non-poor population. 

Since the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the country has seen a surge in poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that Afghanistan’s real GDP could contract by more than 13%, putting 97% of Afghanistan’s 41 million citizens at risk of falling into poverty. However, despite increasing poverty amidst the political transition in Afghanistan, past efforts have shown that humanitarian aid can make a difference.

Humanitarian Support for Afghan Citizens

For example, as a result of international aid, access to electricity, potable water and sanitation each improved by 14% annually between 2007 and 2012, and youth literacy increased by 8%. Since its withdrawal, the U.S. and other nations have therefore focused their efforts on providing humanitarian aid to Afghan citizens who are suffering amid the political transition.

One such initiative is the Local Area-Based Programme, which the UNDP introduced in 2021. In collaboration with local businesses and NGOs, the 24-month program aims to aid at least nine million Afghan citizens in need by supporting infrastructure development, income opportunities and essential services. It targets the country’s most vulnerable communities, including women, children and the elderly, and centers on cash transfers, grants and other interventions that will help guarantee vital income, promote women-led businesses and boost local economies.

As of July 2022, the U.S. had provided $775 million in aid overall to support Afghan citizens during the transition, with the specific aims of combating food insecurity, improving agricultural industries, strengthening education and advancing women’s and minority rights. Since 2001, the U.S. has provided more humanitarian aid to Afghanistan than any other country, including $36.07 billion in development aid. In an effort to uphold stability and protect Afghan citizens without supporting the Taliban, the U.S. and other countries are also collaborating to ensure financial liquidity and retain Afghan banks’ connections to the international community.

Looking Ahead

Amid Afghanistan’s recent political transition and economic challenges, the international community continues to show support by providing humanitarian aid to millions in need. Initiatives like the Local Area-Based Programme aim to aid vulnerable communities, including women, children and the elderly, with infrastructure development and income opportunities. The U.S. and other countries have contributed significant financial aid to combat food insecurity, improve education and advance women’s and minority rights, all with the goal of supporting Afghan citizens during this critical period.

– Sahib Singh
Photo: Unsplash

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.


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