The recent buzz about the impact of the political and security transition in Afghanistan (withdrawal of international military by the end of 2014 and mid-2014 presidential elections) has overshadowed a far more important underlying demographic and development challenge that the country shares with other least developed nations: rapid population growth1 and urbanization
In contrast to population growth, economic and development prospects in Afghanistan have been modest at best. Though some Afghans have become extremely rich over the last decade, many in the country are unhappy about the balance between the resources and money poured into their country since 2001 and progress on key social and economic indicators. Despite concerted international effort over the past decade, a third of the population still lives below the absolute poverty line (less than US$1/day) and half are so close to living in poverty that any small shock could move them to the brink. A slowing in international assistance recently burst the externally-propped up economic bubble (85% of the Afghan budget comes from abroad), with Afghanistan’s ‘remarkable’ annual economic growth plunging from a steady 9% since 2002 to 3.1% in 2013. Exports and state revenues followed suit, and so did private investment. This provides a sobering reality for all the aid dollars spent and puts the Afghan economy in dire straits at a time when it has to accommodate for an ever-growing young labour force: those under the age of 25 make up nearly two-thirds of the Afghan population (estimated at around 30 million).
Even excluding increased insecurity and high political uncertainty, factors such as demographic stress in the form of a rapidly growing cohort of potential young migrants hoping to enter higher-wage labour markets, competition over a scarce resource base and a deteriorating economy already present a smorgasbord of classic migration drivers. Adding to this the prevailing insecurity and a growing internal conflict in an uncertain transition environment, there should be no surprises that relocation (external or internal) will continue to function as a coping mechanism for many Afghans for years to come; especially as mobility has long served as an economic survival strategy even before the three decades of seemingly never-ending conflict.