With an average life expectancy of about 40 years and a staggering mortality rate of nearly 26 per cent for children under five years of age, Afghanistan ranks among the most destitute, war-weary countries in the world, according to figures released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
In a statement issued in New York, the agency said 70 per cent of the Afghan population was estimated to be under-nourished, and only 13 per cent have access to improved water sources.
"In most aspects, Afghanistan is worse off than almost any country in the world," said Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Director of UNDP's Human Development Report Office. "The country's social and economic indicators are comparable, or lower, than the indicators for sub-Saharan Africa."
Among 187 countries, only seven have lower life expectancy than Afghanistan, including Sierra Leone and Zambia - countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS or armed conflict, UNDP said. One of every four children born alive in Afghanistan will not survive until their fifth birthday. Only three of the 191 countries surveyed have higher levels of mortality for children under five years: Angola, Niger and Sierra Leone.
Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of Afghani adults are illiterate, almost 15 per cent higher than the average level for least developed countries. Only five countries out of 171 surveyed have lower literacy rates than Afghanistan.
With less than one-third of children enrolled in schools in 1999, Afghanistan lags catastrophically behind other countries and regions. Only 14 of 172 countries surveyed have lower school enrolment than Afghanistan, which is the only country in the world that prohibits girls from attending school.
Due to a lack of available estimates of income per capita, Afghanistan has not appeared since 1996 in UNDP's Human Development Index, which is based on indicators for health, education and income. It then ranked as number 169 of a total of 174 countries.