Afghanistan Expected to Reach 98 Percent Poverty Rate by Mid-2022, U.N. Says

Afghanistan is expected to reach a 98 percent poverty rate by mid-2022, worsening from its current poverty rate of 72 percent, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said Thursday in a report, according to the Associated Press.

Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP's Asia-Pacific director, spoke at a news conference where the UNDP presented its 28-page assessment. "Afghanistan pretty much faces universal poverty by the middle of next year," she said. "That's where we're heading—it's 97-98 percent [poverty rate] no matter how you work these projections."

UNDP said that gains Afghanistan has made over the past 20 years are now at risk of being reversed, the AP said. Per capita income more than doubled, life expectancy at birth was extended, and schooling increased from six to 10 years, with hundreds of thousands of girls getting an education.

Wignaraja said Afghanistan faces "a humanitarian and development disaster" stemming from political instability, a lack of foreign aid and "a crush on local banking" because of a collapsing public finance system and the impact of COVID-19.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghanistan Economy
Afghanistan is expected to hit a 98 percent poverty rate in mid-2022, up from its current rate of 72 percent, a new U.N. report says. Above, people at a market in the capital city of Kabul on Wednesday. Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

UNDP outlined four scenarios for Afghanistan following the Taliban's takeover that project the country's gross domestic product will decline between 3.6 percent and 13.2 percent 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 percent growth in GDP before the Taliban assumed power for a second time on August 15.

UNDP said Afghanistan's foreign reserves now cover just one week of imports, which the country is heavily reliant on for oil, food and machinery.

Abdallah al-Dardari, UNDP's representative in Afghanistan, said that by the time the Taliban took over, "the Afghan population was already on the brink of collapse economically and socially."

With universal poverty looming, he said, the most important thing is saving livelihoods, which can also save lives.

He said UNDP has put together a package for local communities to support livelihoods, to support jobs for young men and women and to reach households with disabled people and men and women over age 65. UNDP also wants to make sure it reaches the 65,000 enterprises in Afghanistan owned by women, and that a million young men and women find jobs, he said.

"All of this will reach about 9 million Afghans," al-Dardari said in a video briefing from Istanbul. "Most importantly, we preserve through this package 20 years of economic and social development in Afghanistan."

He said that "70 percent and more of the Afghan economy is made up of informal activities and 70 percent of that sector is owned by women, and therefore we need to focus on women in Afghanistan to prevent poverty."

Wignaraja said right now it's the micro-businesses and small farmers that are keeping things going in Afghanistan.

She was asked whether the Taliban had approved the package that UNDP is pursuing to prevent universal poverty.

"We have not yet had to ask for national permissions," she replied. "We have been allowed at the local level, as part of the U.N. development and humanitarian community, to get on with our work. And let's hope that that continues, because otherwise the bottom is going to fall off."

Afghanistan Poverty Rate
A Taliban soldier guards the Panjshir gate in Afghanistan's Panjshir province on Wednesday. Mohammad Asif Khan/AP Photo