Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan

Today in Kabul the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report entitled the Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan.

Here is an excerpt from the press conference.

We are all aware that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. One third of its population lives in absolute poverty. Afghanistan I think you also know has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. This means that 25,000 women die each year because of complications associated with giving birth. This is the highest single cause of death in Afghanistan.

Only 23 per cent of Afghans has access to safe drinking water. Only 24 per cent of the population above the age of 15 can read and write, and of course with much lower literacy rates among women and nomadic populations. According to UNICEF, 30 per cent of primary school children are working and are often the sole source of income for their families.

Poverty kills. Poverty actually kills more Afghans than those who die as a direct result of the armed conflict. Poverty deprives two-thirds of the Afghan population from living a decent and dignified life – this includes the inability to enjoy their most basic and fundamental rights, such as getting an education or having access to health services.

But who are the poor in Afghanistan and why are they poor? Statistics tend to hide the root causes of poverty. Statistics also tend to focus our attention to the consequences rather than causes of widespread impoverishment.

As elsewhere in the world, poverty is multi-dimensional and can be traced to different sources and processes. Poverty is neither accidental, nor inevitable; it is both a cause and a consequence of a massive human rights deficit. The deficit includes widespread impunity and inadequate investment in, and attention to, human rights. Patronage, corruption, impunity and over-emphasis on short-term goals rather than targeted long-term development are exacerbating a situation of dire poverty that is the condition of an overwhelming majority of Afghans.

A human rights angle offers a complementary approach to existing poverty reduction strategies. The High Commissioner’s report concludes that sustainable poverty reduction is dependent on efforts that roll back abusive power structures. Vested interests in this country frequently shape the public agenda, whether in relation to the law, policy, or the allocation of resources. The High Commissioner’s report also argues that the poor must be at the centre of decision-making processes that affect their life. The poor need to be empowered to make free and informed choices about their future; they need to be involved, in a meaningful way, in efforts geared to overcoming poverty.

To see the full transcript of the press conference click here.

Additional Resources

The Cost of War: Afghan Experiences of Conflict 1978-2009

The past three decades of war and disorder have had a devastating impact on the Afghan people. Millions have been killed, millions more have been forced to flee their homes and the country’s infrastructure and forests have all but been destroyed. The social fabric of the country is fractured and state institutions are fragile and weak.

Much has been written about the wars in Afghanistan and the basic narrative of the conflict, in one form or another, has been repeated in countless books, academic articles and news reports. But the voices of ordinary Afghans are often absent from these accounts, and yet it is the Afghan people who are most affected by the violence.

To better understand how Afghans have experienced and understand the conflict, eight nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan conducted research in 14 provinces across the country. This research focused on individual experiences of the past thirty years of conflict, perceptions of the current conflict and recommendations for alleviating the violence and addressing its root causes.

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Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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