The United Nations human rights office is urging that Afghanistan’s poor be at the centre of decision-making processes that affect their lives, after a new report found that rights abuses are exacerbating poverty in the country.
“Poverty actually kills more Afghans than those who die as a direct result of the armed conflict,” Norah Niland, Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul today.
“Poverty is neither accidental, nor inevitable; it is both a cause and a consequence of a massive human rights deficit,” she added.
“The deficit includes widespread impunity and inadequate investment in, and attention to, human rights. Patronage, corruption, impunity and over-emphasis on short-term goals rather than targeted long-term development are exacerbating a situation of dire poverty that is the condition of an overwhelming majority of Afghans.”
According to the report published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), some 9 million Afghans – 36 per cent of the population – are believed to live in absolute poverty and a further 37 per cent live only slightly above the poverty line, despite an estimated injection of some $35 billion during the period 2002-2009.
Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world and the third highest rate of child mortality. Only 23 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water, and only 24 per cent of Afghans above the age of 15 can read and write, with much lower literacy rates among women and nomadic populations.
The report called on the Afghan Government and its international partners to strengthen development policy and to implement strategies that adopt a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction efforts.
“Such an approach will help ensure that the specific needs and conditions of the poor are addressed and with their full participation,” said Ms. Niland. “When emphasizing the importance of participation, the basic message is that the poor must become the architects of their own future.”
The report, which drew on a survey carried out among some of the poorest communities in 14 provinces, as well a separate series of interviews of experts at the local and national level, also noted that more of the development money spent in Afghanistan must be geared to achieving the priorities set by the Government in its fight against poverty. “Security objectives must not sideline the urgent need to ramp up poverty reduction efforts,” Ms. Niland stated.
An effective approach to reducing poverty, concluded the report, must be holistic and the effort to restore security should be accompanied by measures to tackle abusive power structures, as well as to create opportunities for the poor to make free and well-informed contributions to decisions that affect their lives.