Study finds urgent socio-economic needs among Afghans

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 3 September 2007

Questions are attributable to Mohammad Nadir Farhad, UNHCR Public Information Section, Kabul, Afghanistan.

KABUL, Sept 3, 2007 - A lack of housing, jobs and safe drinking water have been cited as the main obstacles to the return and reintegration of displaced Afghans, according to a report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Titled "Economic and Social Rights in Afghanistan II", the report - the second in its series - focuses on economic and social rights in Afghanistan, and outlines key challenges and recommendations to advance and protect human rights in the country. More than 11,000 people were interviewed from January to December 2006 in 32 provinces, with particular attention to vulnerable groups and people living in remote rural areas. The majority of interviewees were former refugees who had returned from exile and protracted internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The benchmark for the UNHCR-funded assessment is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Afghanistan ratified in 1983. Other assessment indicators are Afghanistan's Millennium Development Goals and targets as well as the benchmarks provided in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy and the Afghanistan Compact.

Among the key findings are:

Poverty: 62.3% of all interviewees said their household had no stable income. 64.7% stated that their household was in debt. More then 60% live below the poverty line, earning less than US$1 per day.

Healthcare facilities: Although 85.9% said governmental/NGO health care services are available, 36.9% indicated they were not using these facilities because of lack of physical accessibility, lack of services and poor staff quality.

Housing problems: More than one-third (36.3%) reported problems with their property, ranging from habitability, security of tenure and affordability. Lack of housing features as an obstacle to return and reintegration, affecting 67.1% of interviewed returnees who chose not to return to their places of origin, 67.3% who left their places of origin after return and over a third (43.4%) of interviewed IDPs.

Primary education: 94.4% said governmental/NGO primary education facilities were available for their children, but a third of interviewees said their primary-school age children do not attend school regularly - primarily girls (36.7%) because of physical accessibility and boys (26.1%) due to child labour.

Effective remedy: Only 36.2% of interviewees approached the formal justice mechanisms to solve their disputes while 59.1% relied on customary justice mechanisms such as elders, Shuras/Jirgas, the family and the Mullahs.

Child labour: More than one-third (37%) said at least one of their children aged under 15 years works. Among them, nearly half (48.9%) reported that most or all of their children work - an increase of 8.5% compared to last year's study.

Priority for the future: Over 85% of interviewees listed economic and social rights as their main priorities for improvement of the future. Job opportunities (17.5%), access to safe drinking water (15%), improvement of health facilities (12.3%), and education (11.2%), housing (10.7%) were all given higher priority than security (4%) or justice (3.1%).

Responding to these findings, AIHRC has urged the government to pay more attention to the situation of vulnerable groups when implementing the National Development Strategy. It has also called upon the authorities to consider its recommendations to improve compliance with their immediate legal obligations under the ICESCR and to identify areas to be prioritized during the implementation of the National Development Strategy.