Securing a prosperous future for Afghanistan amidst challenges

This page in:
 Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank
According to a recent report, just over half of Afghan children attend primary school and most of them were boys. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

Fueled by unprecedented levels of aid, literacy, school enrollment, and access to basic services, Afghanistan made tremendous progress between 2007–08 and 2011–12. However, declining aid and increasing conflict during the period between 2011–12 and 2013–14 slowed progress, especially on education and maternal health outcomes, as documented by our recent World Bank report, the “Afghanistan Poverty Status Update: Progress at Risk.”

In this blog, we look at how Afghanistan has performed across several important development indicators in the last few years.


Despite improvements over the past decade, Afghanistan, sadly, maintains the lowest educational outcomes in South Asia. The country continues to lag behind in average educational attainment compared to other low-income and fragile countries. As of 2013–14, only 20.3 percent of Afghan women above the age of 15 were literate, the average years of education of an Afghan individual above the age of 18 was only 2.8, and only 37 percent of pupils attended secondary school.

Even progress in primary school attendance halted and reversed between 2011-12 and 2013-14, going down from 55.8 percent to 54.4 percent. In fact, while attendance for both boys and girls fell, primary school attendance for girls decreased by 2.2 percent annually against a smaller 0.6 percent annual decline for boys (see Figure). With already much lower attendance rates, girls and children in rural areas are falling further behind and are losing out on valuable years of education which will have lasting consequences for Afghanistan.  

 Authors? calculation based on NRVA 2007-08, NRVA 2011-12, and ALCS 2013-14
Trends in primary school attendance, by gender and area of residence. Source: Authors’ calculation based on NRVA 2007-08, NRVA 2011-12, and ALCS 2013-14


Maternal health in Afghanistan is moving at a slower pace than previously observed as a result of sluggish progress in rural areas. The expansion in primary healthcare services has significantly improved maternal health outcomes over time. For instance, the percentage of Afghan women receiving skilled antenatal care and delivering with skilled assistance doubled between 2007–08 and 2013–14.

Yet, women living in rural areas remain at a severe disadvantage in accessing maternal health services, with women in urban areas more than twice as likely to receive skilled assistance while delivering as women in rural areas. The gap between skilled birth assistance in urban and rural areas widened, from 43.5 percentage points in 2011-12 to 45.8 percentage points in 2013-14.

As a result of the expansion of primary healthcare services, the percentage of access to maternal health services increased in Afghanistan. However, improving access to maternal health care needs to be a continued priority, especially in rural areas.  Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

Access to basic services

Despite challenges of increasing conflict and declining aid, access to water and electricity continued to improve across Afghanistan in the past years, making it an important success story. The percentage of Afghans with access to safe drinking water more than doubled from 26.6 percent in 2007–08 to 64.8 percent in 2013–14. Similarly, access to electricity improved from 41.6 percent in 2007–08 to almost 90 percent in 2013–14.

Furthermore, 39 percent of Afghans had access to improved sanitation in 2013–14. Nevertheless, the country remains far from closing the urban-rural gap when it comes to accessing infrastructure. In urban areas, for instance, eight out of ten households had access to improved sanitation in 2013–14, compared to only three out of ten in rural households.

Similarly, nine out of ten urban households in Afghanistan had access to safe drinking water in 2013-14, but this was the case for only six out of ten rural households. However, when it comes to access to electricity, Afghans living in rural areas have almost caught up to urban areas. About 99 percent of Afghans in urban areas had access to electricity in 2013–14, an increase from about 90 percent in 2007-08. Meanwhile, access in rural areas almost tripled between 2007–08 and 2013–14 from 30.5 percent to 86.6 percent, largely based on increased availability of solar energy in rural areas since 2007–08.

Our report highlights some important policy areas that are still relevant today even with the deterioration in security. Removing obstacles for girls’ education, improving the living conditions for Afghans in rural areas will be vital to support economic growth and promote poverty reduction. While expanding access to education, health and basic services should remain a priority, greater attention should be devoted to improving access in currently underserved areas and among traditionally under-served groups, such as girls and the poor. Conflict limits the ability of the government to effectively deliver social services. Therefore, the modes of delivery should adapt to the deteriorating security situation to ensure services are provided to all Afghans regardless of where they live.


Christina Wieser

Senior Economist, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000