After 35 years of civil war and military occupation, Afghanistan is preparing to assume responsibility for managing its own security and economy without the support of international military forces, and amid declining international aid. There are many pressing political, economic and social challenges as different groups vie for power.
The country faces great difficulties as it balances interests of diverse ethnic and religious groups; addresses poverty, inequality and violence; and re-establishes justice, health and education services. Rugged terrain and limited infrastructure make it difficult to reach remote areas. While Afghanistan is dependent on foreign aid, there is resistance in some areas to what are perceived as western ideas.
Since August 2003, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been conducting security operations, while also training and developing the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). ISAF's mission is due for completion at the end of 2014, when Afghan military and police will take full responsibility.
The widespread and indiscriminate use of mines and munitions during years of conflict has made Afghanistan one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world. Thousands of Afghans have worked on clearance programs. Between 1989 and 2013, 1,860 square kilometres were made safer for farming and travel. Deaths have been reduced by 40% since 2006, but mines still kill an average of 31 people each month.
Despite threats of violence there was a high election turnout of people including women and young people at the first and second rounds of elections. Observers noted that there was significantly less fraud than in previous elections.
Aid and economic growth
The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, administered by the World Bank, has coordinated development assistance since 2003. Aid has helped develop civilian infrastructure and services, such as education, health, electricity and roads, and has driven an average economic growth of 9.4% per year.
Agriculture is the main source of economic growth, but is highly dependent on favourable weather conditions and reliant on food imports to meet its needs.
There is potential for economic growth in Afghanistan's wide range of natural resources, including minerals, copper, coal, iron ore, gold, oil and gas. However, international experience shows that natural resource exploitation does not create jobs for local people and carries large risks, especially for governance, social cohesion and increased conflict.
Crime, theft and political instability have been identified as the largest constraints to investment, followed closely by limited access to electricity, finance and land.
Remote areas, natural disasters and limited numbers of trained health care workers contribute to high maternal mortality rates. While improvements have been made, an estimated 400 mothers per 100,000 live births still die in childbirth or from associated complications. In addition, 99 per 100,000 children under five die from preventable diseases and malnutrition.
Save the Children partners with Afghan non-government organisations (NGOs) to work with families, communities and health care workers in homes, health posts, clinics and hospitals to promote basic health, wellbeing and survival, particularly for children under five and for women of childbearing age. It advocates to government health care leaders and administrators for further training and support of community health workers living in remote areas.
To break the cultural taboo of women working outside the home, family teams (such as wife and husband, mother and son, sister and brother) work together. The male engages with the men, and acts as chaperone for the woman while she tends to women's health matters.
Save the Children has worked with parents and village and religious leaders to support education by building schools and training women teachers. School enrolments have increased from less than 1 million in 2001 to a total of 7.7 million in 2011, including over 2.7 million girls. Some children have to work to help support their families, so classes are offered with flexible hours. However, many still do not attend. In addition, some girls are withdrawn from school early by their parents and married.
Afghanistan's climate is arid and semi-arid, with annual rainfall ranging from 100 mm to 400 mm. Only 11% of the land is arable. ACIAR-Australian Aid has introduced improved wheat and maize varieties. Farmers who trialled the seeds ranked their reasons for planting in the following order: water efficiency, higher yield, breadmaking quality, insect resistance and disease resistance.
Save the Children is working with partners to employ people who can improve local reservoirs and agricultural canals. This will lead to improved access to water, increased yield and income for families to buy food.
Refugees and displaced people
More than 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the United Nations High Commission for Refugees voluntary repatriation program began in 2002. Over 2.6 million Afghan refugees remain in neighbouring countries, including Pakistan (1.6 million) and Iran (933,500). There are an estimated 3 million refugees worldwide. In addition, there are over 400,000 conflict-induced internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan. Resettlement and rebuilding lives are hampered by ongoing conflict; limited economic growth; competition for land, natural resources and employment; and heavily mined areas.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and 11 civil society organisations have produced a report entitled Afghan People's Dialogue on Peace: Building the Foundations for an Inclusive Peace Process. It summarises the views of 4,648 Afghan men, women and youth from all walks of life throughout Afghanistan's 34 provinces. It presents a ten-point road map for peace; promoting inclusiveness; establishing security and tackling corruption, injustice and lack of rule of law; realising economic progress and social justice; and protecting and promoting human rights.