Wednesday, February 23, 2005

AFGHANISTAN - The Ignored War

The Ignored War

It's the forgotten war. But no news is sometimes bad news, and even
though it's not making the front pages, Afghanistan today is a country on
the brink of
chaos. A new U.N. report, "National Human Development Report: Security
With a Human Face," ranked development in the war-shattered country
173rd out of 178 countries surveyed. (Only the sub-Saharan nations of
Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone rated worse.) Here's a
snapshot of life in today's Afghanistan: The average life expectancy in
Afghanistan is 44.5 years, 20 years lower than in neighboring
countries. A fifth of the rural population is going hungry. Twenty percent of
kids die before the age of 5, "80 percent of them from preventable
diseases, one of the worst rates in the world." Part of that is due to the
fact that three quarters of the population lacks access to clean drinking
water. Unless the situation is turned around, the report warned,
Afghanistan could revert to anarchy as "the fragile nation could easily
tumble back into chaos."

NARCOTIC STRANGLEHOLD: Last month, a report by the International
Monetary Fund expressed concern that Afghanistan's mushrooming opium trade
( was undermining
its stability as a nation. Today, three years after U.S. forces
arrived, Afghanistan is responsible "for about 87 percent of the world's opium
supply." Drug trafficking brings in almost $3 billion a year, an amount
equal to about 60 percent of Afghanistan's legitimate gross domestic
product. Experts believe that "roughly 10 percent of Afghanistan's
population of about 25 million is directly involved in poppy cultivation.
Many more are believed to work in processing, trafficking and other
illicit activities." Read more
about the impact of narcotics in Afghanistan.

ELECTION CHALLENGES: Afghanistan's first free election last October was
a victory for the country. Even more important, however, will be the
upcoming elections to decide upon the country's Parliament members. That
election is facing a rocky road
( .
Originally scheduled to take place in April or May of this year, the
deadline is being pushed back. According to Afghan law, President Karzai
has to announce the boundaries of the electoral districts a full 120
days before the election. The team updating the land surveys and
population figures has yet to report back, and even if Karzai were to announce
the boundaries tomorrow, that means the elections couldn't be held
until at least June. Second, the Afghan government has to raise $130
million to pay for the elections. Ballots for the 400+ races have to be
printed and distributed, the 4,000 candidates need to be vetted and voters
have to be educated. Making matters even more difficult, most of the
election officials involved are brand new; most international election
workers left the country after the October vote.

THE MEDIA VACUUM: So why isn't there more being reported about the
challenges still faced in Afghanistan? One reason: the journalists have all
gone home. Afghanistan is still a hot spot in the war against al Qaeda;
the country is still facing important elections this spring. However,
according to the American Journalism Review " only three news
organizations ( -- Newsweek, Associated Press
and the Washington Post -- have full-time reporters stationed in Kabul,
the capital."