“Going, Going ... Once Again Gone?” The Human Capital Outflow from Afghanistan Post 2014 Elections

Publication date:
Susanne Schmeidl

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.