20 October 2008The various crises facing nations today could worsen the plight of millions of underprivileged people in Afghanistan, which is already ranked the fourth poorest country in the world, a senior United Nations development official cautioned today. “A combination of food price hikes, a downturn in the global economy, the effects of climate change, weak governance, and the intensification of the armed conflict threaten to push even more Afghans into the ranks of the desperately poor,” Manoj Basnyat, Country Director for Afghanistan, UN Development Programme (UNDP), told reporters in Kabul. “I believe Afghanistan’s biggest problem today is poverty,” Mr. Basnyat stated, noting that the country has a poverty rate of 42 per cent, with another 20 per cent of people hovering just above the poverty line.In addition, 70 per cent of Afghans face food insecurity, 20 per cent of rural households are chronically food insecure and another 18 per cent face seasonal food shortages.“However, poverty is not inevitable but a reflection of the way societies are organized and resources distributed,” he noted. Poverty in Afghanistan is driven by many factors, he explained, including low literacy, poor health care, mismanagement of natural resources and social structures that disadvantage particular groups and communities.While the challenges are tremendous, the situation is not hopeless, stressed Mr. Basnyat. “We can move Afghanistan out of its current rank of fourth poorest country in the world if we all work together.” In that regard, he said the country has a “very promising” poverty reduction plan in the form of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). Launched in June at the Paris conference that brought together representatives of Afghanistan and its international partners, the strategy is the country’s five-year plan to reduce poverty and promote economic and social development.“Afghanistan is now at an important crossroads and much depends on moving forward with the key poverty reduction objectives that are part of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy,” said Mr. Basnyat. UNDP is assisting the country in its efforts through a number of initiatives, such as the National Area Based Development Programme, which focuses on the challenges of specific areas of the country considered to be particularly vulnerable.By supporting the establishment of 306 District Development Assemblies in all 34 provinces together with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, UNDP is working to ensure full, open community consultation and participation in the rural development process.“Proper community consultation at this level is the key to success,” stressed Mr. Basnyat. “We must focus at the grassroots level and that means in every district across the country.”The National Area Based Development Programme has completed 520 rural infrastructure projects since 2006, including irrigation systems, roads, schools, clinics, bridges, community centres, and protection walls, benefiting some 2.5 million people in rural areas. He also highlighted what he referred to as the “Kandahar Model” of community-based development which allows the agency to implement infrastructure projects in areas previously thought too insecure for development work. In addition to Kandahar, the model is also being rolled out in the other violence-prone provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan and Nangarhar.