Human Rights in Afghanistan
Armed conflict continues between Taliban and government forces, leaving human rights in Afghanistan a ravaged victim to the ongoing violence. The crisis has escalated and become a significant recipient of foreign aid. From displacement, abuse and harsh punishments to humanitarian assistance and defenders of human rights, here are six important facts to know about human rights in Afghanistan.

  1. As of September 30, 2016, the U.N. had documented 8,397 civilian casualties as a result of the ongoing armed conflict. Terrorist groups in the region were responsible for 61 percent of these deaths, while both official and unofficial government forces were responsible for 23 percent of civilian casualties.
  2. There were 15 documented incidents of the compromisation of medical treatment facilities in the first half of 2016 alone. Government forces are known to conduct search operations in hospitals and clinics, delay or impede the provision of medical supplies and use health facilities for military purposes.
  3. As of August 2016, Afghan judiciaries had registered more than 3,700 cases of violence against women and girls. Under Shari’a law, the Taliban and other armed groups increased their public punishment of women for so-called “moral crimes.” Punishments included public lashings and executions.
  4. The U.N. Refugee Agency documented 2.6 million Afghan refugees living in the world as of 2016. Ninety-five percent of these refugees now live in Iran and Pakistan where they face discrimination, racial attacks, lack of basic amenities and mass deportation.
  5. Armed groups regularly target active defenders of human rights in Afghanistan. For example, in August 2016, unknown individuals kidnapped, tortured and killed the brother of a local women’s rights activist. They then used the brother’s phone to further threaten the sister into ceasing her human rights work.
  6. According to data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, humanitarian aid reached 1.3 million people in the first quarter of 2017.  The current Humanitarian Response Plan in Afghanistan calls for funding of $550.2 million. The program has received 27.2 percent of that funding so far.

Programs are in place to provide as many Afghan people as possible with the aid they require. However, while such foreign aid response systems are incredibly beneficial, the next crucial step is to take preventative measures against the recurring violations of human rights in Afghanistan.

Sophie Nunnally

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Afghanistan Trade
Since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghanistan trade has steadily increased, with the country partnering with more countries and receiving aid from the U.S. Being a landlocked country, Afghanistan relies heavily on its neighbors for transit routes and trade agreements. The country is working to expand its trade relations and recently partnered with India to create an air freight corridor. Here are 10 facts about Afghanistan trade:

  1. In July 2016, Afghanistan became a member of the World Trade Organization, a move which provides the country with trade and transit opportunities that are simple, reliable and profitable.
  2. There has been an increase in exports in Afghanistan from $570.50 million to $571.41 million between 2015 and 2016. Imports in Afghanistan decreased from $7.729 billion to $7.7228 billion between 2015 and 2016.
  3. In 2016, Afghanistan recorded a trade deficit of $7.151 billion. The country’s trade deficit has been widening since 2006 due to reconstruction efforts.
  4. Afghanistan’s top exports are fruits, nuts, vegetable saps, gems and precious metals.
  5. The top imports are peat, raw sugar, wheat flours and petroleum gas.
  6. Currently, Afghanistan is the 93rd largest trading partner with the U.S. In 2016, the U.S. exported goods to Afghanistan totalling 913 million USD, while the total imported goods from Afghanistan was 34 million USD.
  7. In May of 2016, Afghanistan, Iraq and India signed the Chabahar port agreement. This agreement was to build a port in Iran and construct a transport corridor for trade through Afghanistan. The construction of the port was originally expected to be completed by November 2017, yet now seems unlikely due to souring relations between the U.S. and Iran.
  8. There has been a recent 27 percent decline in trade volume between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan was previously Afghanistan’s top importer, but, due to the conflict between the two countries, some trade has been blocked.
  9. On Wednesday, June 21, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MoCI) stated that Pakistan has been attempting to open a new illegal transit route with Afghanistan. This is an attempt to salvage the declining trade industry between the two countries. There are already more than 10 illegal trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan where millions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled through annually. Despite the potential for economic gain, Afghanistan only wishes to promote legal trade and transit with Pakistan, said MoCI’s head of transit department Sayed Yahya Akhlaqi.
  10. Afghanistan has recently established a new, direct air freight corridor with India, opening the opportunity for an increasing volume of trade between the two countries. This agreement is a significant advantage for Afghanistan, providing access to the Indian market, a promising one for Afghan goods according to Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali.

There is more to know than just these 10 facts about Afghanistan trade. The country is making strides to better its trade with other nations, especially since the blockage of its previous top trade partner. According to Abdali, Afghanistan is open to anyone for connectivity and trade, even to Pakistan.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Flickr

The poverty rate in Afghanistan is currently at 39 percent, accounting for all Afghan citizens living below the poverty line. This translates to 1 in 3 citizens who are unable to satisfy their basic needs.

This high poverty rate is not only an increase of three percent from 2011 to 2012, but it is also demonstrative of the 15 years of economic and social progress that is increasingly at risk in the nation. According to the World Bank’s Poverty Status Update Report, since the beginning of the withdrawal of international forces in 2011 and of the political transition period, Afghanistan has suffered deteriorating security and employment opportunities despite general economic growth.

The World Bank’s report stated that one of the main reasons for the increased poverty rate is the significant decline in labor market conditions, a setback that hurts rural and youth populations the most. Between 2011 and 2014, rural poverty increased by 14 percent while urban poverty remained unchanged.

These numbers reflect the social inequalities deeply ingrained in Afghan society that are stressed in times of hardship, insecurity or crisis. Afghans living in urban settings are simply better protected and have better access to economic opportunities and health services than those who live in rural areas. Gender inequality is still overwhelming in Afghanistan, illustrated by a sharp decline in girls’ primary school attendance congruent with the rise in poverty.

In Afghanistan’s rural areas, 90 percent of women and 63 percent of men are illiterate. Furthermore, these men and women are also heavily dependent on livestock and agriculture for a decent portion of their income. A basic lack of resources, harsh climate conditions and years of conflict have made rural livelihoods difficult and vulnerable to any peril.

Fortunately, Afghanistan’s economy is predicted to eventually rebound; however, in order to reduce poverty going forward, areas of struggle and fragility must be addressed and prioritized. To promote future progress, health and education services need to be made more accessible to everyone and youth need to be integrated into the labor force.

Overall, to reduce the poverty rate in Afghanistan, the state needs to focus on more comprehensive, particularly rural, development to close the wide gap between the upper and lower classes and cultivate a more equal, prosperous population.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr

Two hundred female nursing students recently graduated from six nursing schools in Afghanistan. Now, the students will return to their communities to offer medical assistance in areas most in need.

The women participated in a two-year medical training program including accommodations, three meals a day, transportation and a living allowance. Their days included both time in class and practical work in city hospitals, where the women learned how to perform basic surgery, how to advise pregnant women regarding basic care and nutrition, studied the treatments for various ailments and filled prescriptions.

After completing two years of study, the women work in their village clinics; some reside 100 kilometers or more away from the school. If they perform well, they receive a diploma.

The UNDP, in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, set up six nursing schools in Afghanistan. The Global Fund provided a grant for approximately $8 million, allocated to strengthening the health system in Afghanistan through training nurses and improving access to medical care in the community.

Primarily, these nurses provide medical care to two populations desperately in need: people in rural areas and women. However, healthcare professionals from outside a specific area will often avoid rural villages out of fear for their safety.

Women, in particular, lack the ability to receive quality healthcare due to certain cultural norms: women are often not permitted to be treated by a male doctor, and female healthcare workers are few in number. According to WHO, 40 percent of health care facilities in Afghanistan do not have any women on staff.

Women also lack both privacy and the ability to make choices about their treatment. Additionally, healthcare workers often have limited knowledge of women’s health issues. As a result, in 2015 the infant mortality rate in Afghanistan at 45 percent and the maternal mortality ratio of 1,291 per 100,000 live births are among the highest in the world.

Thankfully, having trained female nurses increases the potential to address many of these issues. However, these women must face unique obstacles; it is not customary for women to live or study away from home. In a country in which, according to 2015 USAID statistics, only 8.6 percent of women received a degree in secondary or higher education, and only 14.8 percent of women are literate, these women set a very powerful precedent.

Emilia Otte

Photo: Flickr

Sima Samar is one of the most influential people in the world, advocating for other women and minority groups. Her humanitarian pursuits have not come without serious risk to her life, and yet Sima Samar has never deterred her efforts. As quoted in the Afghanistan Foreign Policy and Government Guide, she once stated, “I’ve always been in danger, but I don’t mind. I believe that we will die one day so I said let’s take the risk and help somebody else.”

Here are 10 facts about Sima Samar and her lifelong activism.

  1. Samar grew up as a member of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority with 10 siblings and a polygamist father. Attending school in Lashkargah, Samar began speaking out for women’s rights as early as the seventh grade.
  2. Samar’s father would not let her attend university unless she agreed to an arranged marriage. She accepted a marriage to Abdul Chafoor Sultani on the terms that he let her study medicine. Samar received a medical degree from Kabul University in 1982. She was the first Hazara woman in Afghanistan to do so.
  3. One night in 1978, 10 men broke into Samar’s home and kidnapped her husband and his three brothers. They were among the 500 educated people kidnapped during the Russian invasion never to be seen or heard from again.
  4. In 1984, oppressive Russian forces forced Samar to flee to Pakistan with her young son. She stayed there for the next 17 years, dedicating herself to aiding other Afghan refugees.
  5. By 1987, Samar helped open the first hospital for women, staffed by women in Pakistan. She also set up education programs for girls in the country. She did this despite opposition from conservative leaders in Pakistan and limited funding.
  6. In 1989, Samar established the Shuhada Organization, a nonprofit that strives for a prosperous, democratic and socially just Afghanistan with an emphasis on empowering women and children. Founding the Shuhada Organization was dangerous for Samar because it directly opposed the uncompromising Taliban regime that seized control of Afghanistan in 1994. Samar did not let death threats or public condemnation dishearten or scare her. The organization now runs 55 schools in Afghanistan and three in Pakistan for Afghan refugees.
  7. After the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, Sima Samar was chosen as the first Deputy Chair and Minister of Women’s Affairs during the Interim Administration in Afghanistan. As the first ever Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs, she oversaw the re-entry of girls into school and women into the workforce.
  8. Samar has since stepped down as the Minister of Women’s Affairs and now heads Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission.
  9. From 2005 to 2009, Samar worked as the U.N. special reporter on the human rights situation in Sudan.
  10. Samar has been recognized and rewarded by numerous human rights and women’s rights organizations internationally and was named Forbes’ 28th most powerful woman in 2006.

While Samar paid a high price for her achievements, these 10 facts reveal her success as a humanitarian and activist. Sima Samar demonstrates the influence, change and progress one person can achieve; she is truly a woman to be celebrated.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr

Refugees Come From
2015 UNHCR statistics estimate that 65.3 million people have been forced from their homes around the world. This equates to roughly one out of every 113 people on Earth. Almost 1 percent of the Earth’s population is displaced either internally, as an asylum-seeker, or as a refugee. Approximately 21.3 million of these people are considered refugees, and over half of these refugees come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.


Refugees Come From:


Approximately 4.9 million refugees come from Syria. This is a subset of the 12.3 million people who have been displaced from their homes within or outside of the country. The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 with anti-government protests, creating an opening for the militant group ISIS to infiltrate the country. The fighting has killed many citizens while destroying infrastructure including homes, schools, and hospitals.

Most Syrian refugees are resettled in five neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Many of these refugees struggle to meet their basic needs, and most live below the poverty line in these countries. Yet, life is still better in refugee camps than at home.

Around 2.7 million refugees come from Afghanistan. Most of these individuals are resettled in Pakistan and Iran, where their human rights are in constant jeopardy. The number of Afghan refugees continues to dwindle because of continued efforts to repatriate them. These efforts are controversial because citizens still face poverty and war upon their return.

Afghanistan has had economic and security-related difficulties since the withdrawal of many international humanitarian programs in 2014. At the end of 2015, an earthquake displaced even more people. Violence continues to put those remaining in the country in danger. The country’s failing infrastructure has caused a lack of access to electricity, education, and clean water. Women and children are also heavily abused.

Roughly 1.1 million refugees come from Somalia. Since disastrous battles in 1991, Somalia has endured continued conflict. In combination with ongoing flooding and drought, many face extreme poverty and malnutrition.

17 percent of the population is either displaced or living elsewhere as refugees. Thousands of Somalis live in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where they have remained for multiple decades. Many others live in Ethiopia and Yemen. From 1990 to 2015, the number of Somalian-born people living outside the country doubled.

Humanitarian crises have put these countries at the forefront, in terms of numbers, of displaced persons and refugees. However, waves of refugees change with global conflict. Most refugees today are fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. However, the 1970s saw many refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, while the 1990s saw mostly European refugees from the former Soviet Union and Kosovo. No matter where refugees come from or where they resettle, we must continue supporting them.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

Afghan Refugees in India
Over the last few decades, pockets of Delhi, India, have become microcosms of Kabul. Afghan refugees forced out of their homes by war and extremism have found themselves living in meager conditions in poorer parts of the city. Despite their less than satisfactory living situations, these refugees have brought their entrepreneurial spirit with them, finding ways to share their Afghan culture with Indians.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is Ilham, a catering service set up by four Afghan women in 2015 with the help of Access, an NGO working in collaboration with UNHCR. The women create local Afghan delicacies such as Kabuli Pulao (rice with spices, vegetables and meat), Mutton do Piaza (mutton curry) and Firni (rice pudding). Since Afghanistan and India have always shared a particularly friendly relationship, these are dishes that have already been popularized in local Indian culture. However, by providing authentic versions, Ilham has managed to gain a large customer base in just over a year.

The success of this and other ventures set up by Afghan refugees in India, can be measured by the reactions of the women of Ilham when asked about their work. For example, Zameera sees not only the financial independence it has brought her, but also the emotional relief from the despair of losing her home and being separated from her family and country. For Zameera, Ilham is as much a business as it is therapy.

For the nearly 11,000 Afghan refugees in India registered with the UNHCR, as well as that much more living unregistered in the country, initiatives like Ilham have become a way of life. A culture of Afghan cuisine has developed in Delhi, where most of the refugees have settled.

The Green Leaf Restaurant, a popular eatery run by Afghan refugees is another success story. Green Leaf has been beneficial for both the owners as well as the surrounding community. Thus, these refugees contribute to the local economy by providing a niche service driven by high consumer demand.

Anecdotes from Afghan refugees in India offer a valuable insight into how the integration of refugees into local communities can be advantageous to both groups. Rather than detracting from Indian culture, Afghan people have added new aspects to it and strengthened an already strong political partnership. In a time when xenophobia is rampant and fear of job loss is high, it is important to remember that the mingling of cultures can create both enhanced identities as well as new markets for new jobs. The Afghan-Indian experience bears testament to the possibility of a harmonious integration and cultural exchange.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr

State of Refugees Worldwide
When it comes to the state of refugees and displaced people worldwide, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stands ready to protect the rights of those forced to leave their homes. Since the commission’s start in 1950, the UNHCR budget has grown from $300,000 in its first year to around $7 billion in 2015. This agency collects a lot of data regarding the whereabouts and status of refugees around the world in order to maintain a steady and productive presence.

With 65.3 million forcibly displaced people, 21.3 million refugees and 10 million stateless individuals, this type of organization and statistical bookkeeping is essential to progress. Currently, the world is peaking at its highest rate of displacement on record. About half of the global refugee population is under 18, and around 34,000 men, women and children are displaced every day, begging the questions: What countries are these refugees forced to leave? What countries have taken them in?

It is measured that 53 percent of all the world’s refugees are departing from just three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria — in that order. The civil war in Somalia is the single largest event adding to the refugee population, currently forcing refugees to flee into surrounding areas such as Kenya for the past 24 years.

While in Afghanistan, rampant insurgency from the Taliban and Daesh keep refugees from returning home. Most notable in the current media landscape is the third largest refugee contributor, Syria, which is experiencing genocide, civil war and an increasingly destabilized sociopolitical landscape.

With such a massive population exiting the places they call home, every part of the globe has had to accept displaced peoples. The regions harboring the most refugees are the Middle East and North Africa, collectively populated by 39 percent of all of the world’s displaced individuals. Surprisingly, the United States and Europe admit the least amount of people to seek refuge within their borders at 12 percent and six percent respectively.

As for the individual nations containing the highest refugee populations, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon top the list with Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan not far behind. Turkey currently contains 2.5 million displaced individuals from a multitude of areas, establishing the country as a refugee capitol of sorts. The next closest, Pakistan, contains 1.6 million displaced people. Most of this group comes from Afghanistan, as Pakistan is the closest geographic neighbor for much of the Afghan population.

The UNHCR is currently working in 128 different countries to alleviate the suffering that comes with the mass diaspora. Increased funding, as well as more nations willing to accept those without homes, is required if these problems are to end eventually. Many within the U.S. and abroad continue to work tirelessly to provide future for people with no say in how their lives progress. It will take global cooperation to see this crisis to a peaceful resolution and better the current state of refugees around the world.

– Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

High Energy Biscuit
The World Food Program (WFP) High Energy Biscuit is pre-packaged and full of high-protein cereals, micronutrients and vegetable fat and requires zero preparation to be consumed. This food product extends to all groups suffering from hunger — women, children, infants, the elderly, those struggling with disease and communities in rural, underdeveloped regions, such as the Philippines, Kenya, North Korea and Afghanistan.

The biscuits serve as a lifesaving snack to survivors of natural disasters, conflicts and contain a multitude of healthy ingredients to keep individuals, especially children, strong and focused in school.

In 2014, WFP distributed its “biscuit-factory-in-a-box,” which, along with the WFP High Energy Biscuit, contains a variety of foods that are delivered to the world’s hungry. This includes fortified blends, or “mixtures of partially precooked and milled cereals, soya and beans that have been infused with micronutrients for additional health benefits.”

The primarily blended food produced by WFP is corn soya blend, cooked with water to create a warm, nourishing porridge. The blends not only provide protein supplements but also prevent and address nutritional deficiencies. Ready-To-Use Foods are also transported, typically to treat malnutrition among children between the ages of six months and five years old.

These products are easily accessible for poor families who lack access to running water or electricity, as they do not require heat or water to cook. The oil-based, low moisture consistency prevents bacterial contamination and gives them a long shelf life.

The successful impact of the WFP High Energy Biscuit and how much this program has grown since it was initially created has been documented over the years. Individuals who have benefited from the foods include more than 200,000 flood victims from Kenya, as well as 850,000 primary school children in North Korea, where the attendance rate has increased as a result of the incredible amount of aid offered to schools in the local area.

Most recently noted, the WFP High Energy Biscuit made its way to the people affected by the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. In the early days of the emergency response, the biscuits made a big difference and served as a light, convenient form of food aid. WFP has extended its operating locations, with one particular factory in Kabul, Afghanistan as the newest supplier for the WFP High Energy Biscuit.

WFP shows workers in new locations how to make the biscuits using local ingredients. This provides food for more people living in impoverished locations while stimulating the economies of these regions.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Rebuilding Afghanistan
Rebuilding Afghanistan has been no small feat for President Ashraf Ghani. His innovative political career started when he returned to Afghanistan in 2002 from the United States after leaving his job at the World Bank. Upon returning in 2002, he served as finance minister after the collapse of the Taliban Government and proved essential in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Ghani took many steps to rebuild Afghanistan between the end of his term as finance minister and the beginning of his presidency in 2014.

He is the co-founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness, a program that addresses the challenge of accountability and governance through refining governments, markets and people. This program greatly improved many countries. The Afghanistan Project was also created, which supported security, governance, economic and civic transitions.

More recently, in his role as president, Ghani instated a new Anti-Corruption Council. As corruption has been identified as one of the greatest threat to efforts to rebuild countries, the new council will make a great difference in the development of Afghanistan.

Ghani has also been a vocal critic of the way international aid money was being wasted in Afghanistan before he became president. This is one of the many problems he sought to fix when he finally became president in 2014 after running and losing in 2009.

Additionally, in 2006 Ghani gave a Ted talk titled “How to Rebuild a Broken State.” The talk was on his theories regarding the necessary steps to rebuild suffering and broken countries; and showcased his extensive knowledge on governments and what it would take to rebuild a country.

Broken and struggling countries who desire to successfully rebuild themselves need leaders like Ghani. Ghani’s expertise and programs have also helped countries internationally. These implemented programs specifically geared toward rebuilding Afghanistan can serve as an example for other leaders in their quest to rebuild their own countries.

Julia Arredondo

Photo: Flickr