Afghanistan: what comes to mind …?
If you did one of those first-word-that-comes-into-your-head exercises with Afghanistan I reckon most people would probably say 'conflict'. Second might be 'the Taliban'. Or maybe 'poor country'. Or, 'oppressed women'. And ... they'd all be right.
What you probably won't get is "displaced people" or "slums", but .... well, read on. A new Amnesty report out today spells out a few of the facts:
- Half a million people are now displaced by conflict from their homes in Afghanistan (out of a population of 28 million)
- In 2010 over 100,000 people were forced to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere
- The demographic upheaval is increasing by an average of 400 people every day
- 35,000 displaced people are living in slum settlements in Kabul alone
- Over 70% of the displaced households have no electricity
- About a third of the displaced are children
The report, all 101 pages of it, is full of stuff like this. Mind-boggling information about a country that's had far more than its fair share of things to cope with. For example, the fact that it’s experienced a vast exodus of its population during the Soviet invasion (it was the largest refugee outflow anywhere in the world since WW2). Or the fact that the country has the highest maternal mortality rate anywhere in the world (1,400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births), worse even than Somalia (1,200). For comparison: the UK is about 8/100,000, meaning a woman in Afghanistan is 170 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in the UK.
OK, it's a depressing blizzard of statistics. And there is of course a terrible, morale-sapping Taliban-led insurgency killings thousands of people a year (3,021 were killed last year, the highest since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001). Nevertheless, the displacement situation is crippling for the hundreds of thousands caught up in its misery and they need assistance.
In fact, they’re largely being brushed off. The central government categorises the displaced as “economic migrants”, saying they’re no worse off than other poor people. Officials in some provinces are semi-hostile. In Herat, the deputy governor has told humanitarian organisations not to even use the term “displaced” (he doesn’t like the permanence of the term) and there is widespread official resistance to the drilling of water wells (too permanent); instead aid agencies have to take water into settlements in tankers, a wastefully expensive system but one that allows officials to maintain the fiction that the settlements are “temporary”.
Afghanistan's uprooted people are among the most wretched on the entire planet. Aid agencies and the Afghan government ought to be helping them (and indeed NATO for its part should be taking greater efforts not to terrorise entire districts with “night raids” or counter-insurgency offensives that affect entire populations). Just in the past few days there have been disturbing reports of children from displaced persons’ camps freezing to death in the Afghan winter. The situation is dire.
As if to sum it up, one 20-something mother in Kabul’s Chaman-e-Babrak slum said this to an Amnesty researcher: “I don’t know which problem I should talk about - school, employment, not having proper housing, food, health - when my children are getting sick and I have to pay for the doctor and medications. It’s everything.” Now when I think of the word Afghanistan I’ll probably think “displaced people”. Actually though, I’ll also think “it’s everything”.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.