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Afghanistan Economy

Afghanistan    Economy Top of Page

Historically, there has been a dearth of information and reliable statistics about Afghanistan's economy. The Soviet invasion and ensuing civil war destroyed much of the underdeveloped country's limited infrastructure and disrupted normal patterns of economic activity. Gross domestic product has fallen substantially over the past 20 years because of loss of labor and capital and disruption of trade and transport. Continuing internal strife hampered both domestic efforts at reconstruction as well as international aid efforts.

The Afghan economy continues to be overwhelmingly agricultural, despite the fact that only 12% of its total land area is arable and less than 6% currently is cultivated. Agricultural production is constrained by an almost total dependence on erratic winter snows and spring rains for water; irrigation is primitive. Relatively little use is made of machines, chemical fertilizer, or pesticides.

Grain production is Afghanistan's traditional agricultural mainstay. Overall agricultural production dramatically declined following 3 years of drought as well as the sustained fighting, instability in rural areas, and deteriorated infrastructure. Soviet efforts to disrupt production in resistance-dominated areas also contributed to this decline as did the disruption to transportation resulting from ongoing conflict.

The war against the Soviet Union and the ensuing civil war also led to migration to the cities and refugee flight to Pakistan and Iran, further disrupting normal agricultural production. Recent studies indicate that agricultural production and livestock numbers are only sufficient to feed about half of Afghanistan's population. Shortages are exacerbated by the country's already limited transportation network, which has deteriorated further due to damage and neglect resulting from war and the absence of an effective central government.

Opium became a source of cash for some Afghans, especially following the breakdown in central authority after the Soviet withdrawal, and opium-derived revenues probably constituted a major source of income for the two main factions. Opium is easy to cultivate and transport and offers a quick source of income for impoverished Afghans. Afghanistan was the world's largest producer of raw opium in 1999 and 2000. In 2000 the Taliban banned opium poppy cultivation but failed to destroy the existing stockpile and presumably benefited substantially from resulting price increases. Later, in 2001, the Taliban reportedly announced that poppy cultivation could resume. Much of Afghanistan's opium production is refined into heroin and is either consumed by a growing South Asian addict population or exported, primarily to Europe.

Trade and Industry
Trade accounts for a small portion of documented Afghan economy, and there are no reliable statistics relating to trade flows. In 1996, exports, not including opium, were estimated at $80 million and imports estimated at $150 million. These figures have probably decreased over time. Since the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of the Soviet Union, other limited trade relationships appear to be emerging with Central Asian states, Pakistan, Iran, the EU, and Japan. Afghanistan trades little with the United States. Afghanistan does not enjoy U.S. most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status, which was revoked in 1986.

Afghanistan is endowed with a wealth of natural resources, including extensive deposits of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, and precious and semiprecious stones. In the 1970s the Soviets estimated Afghanistan had as much as five trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas, 95 million barrels of oil and condensate reserves, and 400 million tons of coal. Unfortunately, the country's continuing conflict, remote and rugged terrain, and inadequate transportation network usually have made mining these resources difficult, and there have been few serious attempts to further explore or exploit them.

The most important resource has been natural gas, first tapped in 1967. At their peak during the 1980s, natural gas sales accounted for $300 million a year in export revenues (56% of the total). Ninety percent of these exports went to the Soviet Union to pay for imports and debts. However, during the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, Afghanistan's natural gas fields were capped to prevent sabotage by the mujahidin. Restoration of gas production has been hampered by internal strife and the disruption of traditional trading relationships following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gas production has dropped from a high of 290 million cubic feet (Mmcf) per day in the 1980s to a current low of about 22 Mmcf in 2001.

Trade in goods smuggled into Pakistan once constituted a major source of revenue for Afghan regimes, including the Taliban, and also figured as an important element in the Afghan economy. Many of the goods smuggled into Pakistan originally entered Afghanistan from Pakistan, where they fell under the Afghan Trade and Transit Agreement (ATTA), which permitted goods bound for Afghanistan to transit Pakistan free of duty. When Pakistan clamped down in 2000 on the types of goods permitted duty-free transit, routing of goods through Iran from the Gulf increased significantly. Shipments of smuggled goods were subjected to fees and duties paid to the Afghan Government. The trade also provided jobs to tens of thousands of Afghans on both sides of the Durand Line, which forms the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan's closing its Afghan border in September 2001 presumably drastically curtailed this traffic.

Economic Development and Recovery
Afghanistan embarked on a modest economic development program in the 1930s. The government founded banks; introduced paper money; established a university; expanded primary, secondary, and technical schools; and sent students abroad for education. In 1956, the Afghan Government promulgated the first in a long series of ambitious development plans. By the late 1970s, these had achieved only mixed results due to flaws in the planning process as well as inadequate funding and a shortage of the skilled managers and technicians needed for implementation.

These constraints on development have been exacerbated by the flight of educated Afghans and the disruption and instability stemming from the Soviet occupation and ensuing civil war. Today, economic recovery and long-term development will depend on establishing an effective and stable political system and an end to more than 22 years of conflict.

The UN and the international donor community continue to provide considerable humanitarian relief. Since its inception in 1988, the umbrella UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA) has channeled more than $1 billion in multilateral assistance to Afghan refugees and vulnerable persons inside Afghanistan. The U.S., the European Union (EU), and Japan are the leading contributors to this relief effort. One of its key tasks is to eliminate from priority areas--such as villages, arable fields, and roads--some of the 5 to 7 million land mines and 750,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance, sown mainly during the Soviet occupation, which continue to litter the Afghan landscape. Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country in the world; mine-related injuries number up to 300 per month. Without successful mine clearance, refugee repatriation, political stability, and economic reconstruction will be severely constrained.

Economy - overview: Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats). Economic considerations have played second fiddle to political and military upheavals during two decades of war, including the nearly 10-year Soviet military occupation (which ended 15 February 1989). During that conflict one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering a combined peak of more than 6 million refugees. In early 2000, 2 million Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan and about 1.4 million in Iran. Gross domestic product has fallen substantially over the past 20 years because of the loss of labor and capital and the disruption of trade and transport; severe drought added to the nation's difficulties in 1998-2000. The majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Inflation remains a serious problem throughout the country. International aid can deal with only a fraction of the humanitarian problem, let alone promote economic development. In 1999-2000, internal civil strife continued, hampering both domestic economic policies and international aid efforts. Numerical data are likely to be either unavailable or unreliable. Afghanistan was by far the largest producer of opium poppies in 2000, and narcotics trafficking is a major source of revenue.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $21 billion (2000 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: NA%
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $800 (2000 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture:  53%

industry:  28.5%

services:  18.5% (1990)
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%:  NA%

highest 10%:  NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices): NA%
Labor force: 10 million (2000 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 70%, industry 15%, services 15% (1990 est.)
Unemployment rate: NA%
Budget: revenues:  $NA

expenditures:  $NA, including capital expenditures of $NA
Industries: small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, and cement; handwoven carpets; natural gas, oil, coal, copper
Electricity - production: 420 million kWh (1999)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel:  35.71%

hydro:  64.29%

nuclear:  0%

other:  0% (1999)
Electricity - consumption: 480.6 million kWh (1999)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (1999)
Electricity - imports: 90 million kWh (1999)
Agriculture - products: opium poppies, wheat, fruits, nuts; wool, mutton, karakul pelts
Exports: $80 million (does not include opium) (1996 est.)
Exports - commodities: opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems
Exports - partners: FSU, Pakistan, Iran, Germany, India, UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Czech Republic
Imports: $150 million (1996 est.)
Imports - commodities: capital goods, food and petroleum products; most consumer goods
Imports - partners: FSU, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, Singapore, India, South Korea, Germany
Debt - external: $5.5 billion (1996 est.)
Economic aid - recipient: US provided about $70 million in humanitarian assistance in 1997; US continues to contribute to multilateral assistance through the UN programs of food aid, immunization, land mine removal, and a wide range of aid to refugees and displaced persons
Currency: afghani (AFA)
Currency code: AFA
Exchange rates: afghanis per US dollar - 4,700 (January 2000), 4,750 (February 1999), 17,000 (December 1996), 7,000 (January 1995), 1,900 (January 1994), 1,019 (March 1993), 850 (1991); note - these rates reflect the free market exchange rates rather than the official exchange rate, which was fixed at 50.600 afghanis to the dollar until 1996, when it rose to 2,262.65 per dollar, and finally became fixed again at 3,000.00 per dollar in April 1996
Fiscal year: 21 March - 20 March


Countryfacts Information Courtesy: CIA Worldbook

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