Afghans are grappling with extreme hardship as a staggering 85% of the population survives on less than one dollar a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Kanni Wignaraja, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, highlighted this dire situation while addressing the German Society for the United Nations.
Wignaraja revealed that the challenges intensified significantly after August 2021, especially for women who now face severe restrictions hindering their access to education and most employment opportunities.
Adapting to the evolving circumstances, UNDP revamped existing programs and embraced an integrated local development initiative named ABADEI.
“We concentrate on providing direct support to women-owned businesses, job creation, basic social services, renewable energy, and disaster risk management. Our goal is to sustain local economies, ensure food and energy security, enhance people’s well-being, and safeguard them from disasters. Given the scarcity of development financing for Afghanistan, we also prioritize promoting private sector growth,” stated Wignaraja. UNDP’s recent research indicates a 29% decline in Afghanistan’s real GDP since 2020, with a continuing downward spiral. Restrictions on women’s rights alone are estimated to have caused an economic loss ranging from US$600 million to $1 billion.
Wignaraja also emphasized the challenges faced by areas struck by an earthquake around Herat, which were already grappling with high poverty rates. Approximately 1,400 people, predominantly women and children, lost their lives, and 150,000 are left trying to rebuild. Key infrastructure, including schools, roads, clinics, and water supply systems, has been severely damaged.
UNDP responded swiftly, collaborating with UN agencies and other partners to provide immediate relief and support community-led recovery efforts. Beyond restoring essential structures, UNDP plans a comprehensive recovery package for over 100 severely affected villages, addressing home reconstruction, job creation, and ensuring access to energy and water.
Wignaraja noted that the earthquake exacerbated Afghanistan’s existing food insecurity crisis, which will be compounded by winter. UNDP is actively expanding community kitchens managed by women, delivering around 170,000 hot meals to those facing food insecurity, including 13,000 to families affected by the earthquake.
Highlighting the complexity of food insecurity, Wignaraja emphasized the need for a multi-faceted solution, including addressing issues such as clean, drinkable water, which has been compromised by earthquakes, impacting human health and threatening vital livestock for impoverished communities.