The United Nations development agency says Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of “universal poverty” which could become a reality in the middle of next year unless urgent efforts are made to bolster local communities and their economies.
It said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has put 20 years of steady economic gains at risk.
The U.N. Development Program outlined four scenarios for Afghanistan following the Taliban’s Aug. 15 assumption of power that predict 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 fall of the government.
“Afghanistan pretty much faces universal poverty by the middle of next year,” Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Director, told a news conference Thursday launching its 28-page assessment. “That’s where we’re heading — it’s 97-98% (poverty rate) no matter how you work these projections.”
Currently, the poverty rate is 72% and Wignaraja pointed to many development gains after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001: Per capita income more than doubled in the last 20 years, life expectancy at birth was extended by about nine years, the number of years of schooling rose from six to 10, “and we got women into university.”
But she 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.
U.S. will work with Taliban
Meanwhile, the United States has promised to work with the Taliban providing that it lives up to all its commitments, brings greater stability to Afghanistan and the region, demonstrates widespread inclusion, and protects the gains of the last 20 years.”
But U.S. deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who delivered the message at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday, stressed that “any legitimacy and support will have to be earned.”
He said the standards the international community has set are clear and include facilitating safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan and respecting the country’s obligations under international humanitarian law “including those related to the protection of civilians.”
“We’re watching closely to see that those standards are met,” he said.