Afghanistan trailing badly on development: study

( AFP ) - Afghanistan is fifth last on a global index of human development, according to a report released Sunday, despite billions of dollars in aid and help since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

The country's ranking on the Human Development Index -- a composite survey of education, longevity and economic performance -- is the lowest outside Africa, according to the Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007.

The score was fractionally lower than that in the last such report, which was in 2004, but officials said this was more due to changes in data than a reflection of a real decline.

Accurate statistics are difficult to find in Afghanistan, where even the size of the population is not clear.

The report urged donors to fulfil aid commitments, adding that since 2006 they have contributed or pledged 10 billion dollars, "only half of what the government believes is needed to implement its development strategy."

Afghanistan's position of 174th out of 178 placed it above only Niger (the lowest), Sierra Leone, Mali and Burkina Faso, and it was second to last on a separate ranking reflecting inequalities between men and women.

The study had limited distribution in the United States in September but it was officially released Sunday in Kabul.

There had, however, been some progress, said the document drawn up by the Centre for Policy and Human Development at Kabul University, supported by the United Nations Development Programme.

Gross domestic product per person increased from 683 dollars in 2002 to 964 dollars in 2005, it said.

Another 132,000 square kilometres (52,800 square miles) of land was cleared of landmines in 2006 and the number of telephone users shot up to 2.5 million, or 10 percent of the population.

School enrolment has grown over the past five years from 900,000 to nearly 5.4 million, it said.

However, the report cautioned that about one-third of Afghans still do not have enough food to eat or access to safe drinking water, and only 12 percent of women are literate compared with 32 percent of men.

Infant mortality has dropped from 165 babies per 1,000 births to 135 but is still among the highest in the world, as is maternal mortality.

Life expectancy in 2005 was 43 years, down from 44.5 in 2003, it noted.

The report said development is being hit by the weak rule of law, including insurgent attacks that killed twice as many people in 2006 as in the previous year.

Other major concerns were "the abuse of political and military power, the misuse of public funds, the non-transparent privatisation of state-owned enterprises, kickbacks from the sale of narcotics, and other criminal activities."

The justice system was meanwhile struggling to cope, with underqualified judges, allegations of corruption and a backlog of some 6,000 cases awaiting adjudication.

The report proposed a "hybrid" system of justice to strengthen the rule of law with trusted traditional methods of dispute settlement, including through community meetings and tribal structures, complementing the judiciary.

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