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Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 16:29 UK

Life in Afghanistan

Afghanistan continues to struggle to find stability as the Taliban insurgency casts a shadow on advances in education and the economy.

Here are some of the facts and figures about the people, economy, health, education and politics of this troubled country.

SOCIETY

Afghanistan continues to suffer from the many contending ethnic, religious and regional rivalries.

Population breakdown

Regional commanders, the illegal drugs trade and the continuing Taliban insurgency hamper the rule of law, development and aid efforts.

Millions of people have left their homes to flee conflicts in recent years.

About five million Afghans have returned since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Some three million remain abroad.

Civilian casualties

The UNHCR says some 28,000 Afghan returnees, or some 10% of total returns for the year, were unable to return to their home regions due to insecurity, tribal issues, landlessness and lack of work opportunities.

The number of people being killed in the Afghan conflict has soared in recent years as violence has returned to levels not seen since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

The UN says that from January to June 2009, 1,013 civilians were killed, 24% more than during the same period the previous year.

Returning refugees

Most deaths were attributed to the insurgents, but the number of civilians killed by pro-government forces has also risen.

The UN says almost a third of the country is now directly affected by insurgent activities and large parts of the South, South-West, South-East, East, and Central regions of Afghanistan remain classified as "extreme risk, hostile environment" for aid agencies conducting relief work in those areas.

Afghan and foreign forces say hundreds of militants have also been killed - it is impossible to verify precise numbers. Military fatalities among foreign and Afghan forces have also soared.

HEALTH

Woman collects water
Barely a quarter of households have access to safe drinking water

Afghanistan has some of the world's worst health indicators, with an average life expectancy of 44.

About one in five children dies before his or her fifth birthday.

Most women - particularly in rural areas - are never seen by a health professional during pregnancy and childbirth, and the country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world - at nearly one in 50 births.

Most people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities. Disease, malnutrition and poverty are widespread and millions of people are dependant on food aid.

International organisations are helping the ministry of health provide a basic healthcare service to the entire population.

Health indicators

EDUCATION

Afghanistan has seen a massive increase in school enrolment since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, with more than 4.2 million children returning to school.

Education

Although girls make up just 35% of the school population, that is a huge increase even compared to the years before the Taliban banned them from schools.

More than two thirds of Afghans over the age of 15 cannot read and write.

Girls at school
About 35% of girls now go to school

Increased attendance has placed pressure on the educational system which faces a shortage of teachers and materials.

Hundreds of schools - and students - have been attacked by insurgents and President Hamid Karzai has said that several hundred thousand students are missing out on an education because of the insurgency.

Schools for girls have come under increasing attack. According to Unicef, there were 16 improvised bomb attacks on school premises between January and June this year.

Unama Human Rights says there have also been threatening letters issued against schools planned to be used for election purposes, particularly in the East and South East regions.

ECONOMY

Food insecurity

Afghanistan's economy has recovered greatly since the fall of the Taleban in 2001 but the country still remains one of the world's poorest, according to the World Bank.

Despite deteriorating security conditions, the economy has grown strongly over the past six years, at around 12% per year.

Farmers and nomads comprise about three-quarters of the Afghan population, although only about 12% of the land is arable.

War and drought have left about half of the rural population in poverty. The current drought - one of the worst in living memory - has affected traditional food crops such as are corn, rice, barley, wheat, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Poppy cultivation

Trade with key economic partners in the region - Pakistan, China and Iran - has grown and neighbouring countries have helped rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure - from roads to schools.

Drug manufacture is still a tempting solution for many rural households.

Opium production is banned by the government, but it is far more lucrative to growers than conventional crops.

Evidence shows that villages that have received assistance are less likely to grow opium.

In the centre-north, despite poverty, 18 provinces are now "opium-free" compared with 13 in 2007 and just six in 2006.

Security map

POLITICS

A new constitution was approved in January 2004 by Afghan elders and local dignitaries, establishing Afghanistan as an Islamic republic where men and women have equal rights and duties before the law.

Hamid Karzai
President Karzai has been the target of assassination attempts

Hamid Karzai won the country's first direct elections for president in 2004. The first parliamentary and provincial elections since the fall of the Taliban were held in September 2005.

In 2006, three multi-ethnic opposition blocs, including jihadis, leftists, independents and women, were formed.

Fresh presidential and provincial council elections are due to take place in August, with parliamentary elections next year.

But the World Bank says the credibility of the government and new president will depend in part on holding polls that are seen as fair and transparent, not seriously disputed, and do not spark ethnic or factional conflict.

Balance of power

Flow chart



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