San Francisco Chronicle

Nation on brink of poverty, U.N. warns in report

- By Edith M. Lederer Edith M. Lederer is an Associated Press writer.

UNITED NATIONS — Afghanista­n is teetering on the brink of “universal poverty” that could become a reality in the middle of next year unless urgent efforts are made to bolster local communitie­s and their economies, the United Nations developmen­t agency said in a new report.

The U.N. Developmen­t Program said the Taliban takeover of Afghanista­n has put 20 years of steady economic gains at risk.

The agency outlined four scenarios for Afghanista­n following the Taliban’s takeover that project the country’s GDP will decline between 3.6% and 13.2% in the next fiscal year starting in June 2022, depending on the intensity of the crisis and how much the world engages with the Taliban.

That is in sharp contrast to the expected 4% growth in GDP before the Taliban assumed power for a second time on Aug. 15.

“Afghanista­n pretty much faces universal poverty by the middle of next year,” said Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP’s AsiaPacifi­c director. “That’s where we’re heading — it’s 97-98% (poverty rate) no matter how you work these projection­s.”

Currently, Afghanista­n’s poverty rate is 72%.

UNDP pointed to many developmen­t gains over the last 20 years that are now at risk of being reversed: Per capita income more than doubled; life expectancy at birth was extended by about nine years; and the number of years of schooling rose from six to 10 with hundreds of thousands of girls getting an education denied under the Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001.

Wignaraja said Afghanista­n now faces “a humanitari­an and developmen­t disaster” resulting from political instabilit­y, frozen foreign reserves, a collapsed public finance system, “a crush on local banking because of this,” as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNDP said Afghanista­n’s foreign reserves now cover just one week of imports, which the country is heavily reliant on for oil, food and machinery.

Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP’s representa­tive in Afghanista­n, said that by the time the Taliban took over, “the Afghan population was already on the brink of collapse economical­ly and socially.” With universal poverty looming, he said, the most important thing is saving livelihood­s, which can also save lives.

He said UNDP has put together a package for local communitie­s to support livelihood­s, to support jobs for young men and women, and to reach households with disabled people and men and women over age 65. UNDP also wants to make sure that it reaches the 65,000 enterprise­s in Afghanista­n owned by women, and that a million young men and women find jobs, he said.

 ?? Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images ?? A Taliban fighter patrols outside a market in Kabul on Sept. 5. The U.N. Developmen­t Program said the Taliban takeover of Afghanista­n has put 20 years of steady economic gains at risk.
Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images A Taliban fighter patrols outside a market in Kabul on Sept. 5. The U.N. Developmen­t Program said the Taliban takeover of Afghanista­n has put 20 years of steady economic gains at risk.

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