Executive Summary

According to leading international organizations, and other members of the international community, large parts of Afghanistan are in a situation of extreme humanitarian need and continue to live under the threat of instability and the violent activities of criminal and insurgent forces. Despite the significant efforts made by the international community, including the UAE, over the last five years, the provision of quality healthcare, education and basic community infrastructure continue to be three of the greatest areas of need in Afghanistan.

According to UNICEF, an estimated 22 million Afghans, representing 70 percent of the population, live in poverty and substandard conditions. It is estimated that 54 percent of Afghan children are suffering from severe or moderate stunting and 39 percent are severely or moderately underweight. Similarly, 7 percent of Afghan children suffer from acute malnutrition and 54 percent are chronically malnourished.

Infant mortality is also an ongoing concern, as it is estimated that twenty five percent of children in Afghanistan will die before their fifth birthday. It is also estimated that more than 50 women die every day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

The lack of basic hygiene and sanitation facilities is a major contributor to the current health situation. For example, it was estimated in January 2008 that only 23 percent of the entire population of Afghanistan has access to safe drinking water, while access to sanitation facilities is as low as 12 percent.

For social and demographic reasons, education is also an immediate priority. According to UNICEF, Afghanistan has a relatively young population, with more than half of the local population less than 18 years of age. Presently, it is estimated that two million primary school-aged children (sixty percent) are not in school, with more than half of this group being girls. Ensuring the country’s children and young adults are educated is an ongoing challenge for organizations on the ground.

This is a critical area of need, as the literacy rate for young women (15-24 years of age) in Afghanistan is only 18 percent, and among males of the same age group it is only 51 percent. The implications of this trend being allowed to continue into the future are dramatic.

However, addressing this need is particularly challenging, as according to UNICEF, schools are often attacked by warring factions in Afghanistan. In the first half of 2007 for example, there were thirty one separate attacks on schools recorded, dominated by the torching of school facilities and explosions. There were also attacks and threats made against students and teachers across Afghanistan. In certain parts of Afghanistan, children are studying in tents as organizations such as UNICEF and its international partners work to create a permanent school structure for the local community.

One of the major challenges is encouraging and making it possible for school-aged children to enroll in education, despite the many additional responsibilities they are faced with at such an early age. In the current social and economic environment in Afghanistan, many school-aged children are working to support their families, meaning education is not always considered an immediate priority. This underscores the need for broader community development in Afghanistan, alongside the development of schools and educational services.

It is also important to recognize that in a Muslim country such as Afghanistan, broader community development generally involves the provision of mosques, prayer facilities and other materials associated with the practicing of Islamic faith.

From the perspective of the UAE, the international community has a responsibility to address these pressing humanitarian needs, in healthcare, education and the provision of basic infrastructure. As a responsible member of the international community, with natural insights into the broader cultural needs of the people of Afghanistan, the UAE is compelled to contribute to this international response.