Poverty and unemployment fuel the conflict according to 70% of Afghans, new Oxfam research shows

Published: 18th November 2009

Seventy per cent of Afghans surveyed see poverty and unemployment as the major cause of the conflict in their country, according to new research by international aid agency Oxfam and a group of Afghan organisations. Ordinary Afghans blame government weakness and corruption as the second most important factor behind the fighting, with the Taliban coming third, followed by interference by neighboring countries.

The Cost of War

The research is contained in Oxfam’s new joint report, “The Cost of War”, which paints a grim picture of a country brought to its knees by 30 years of fighting. The survey of 704 Afghans from across the country reveals:

  • one in six Afghans are currently considering leaving Afghanistan;
  • one in five Afghans have been tortured since the wars began in 1979;
  • three quarters of Afghans have been forced to leave their homes since then.

Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International, said: “The people of Afghanistan have suffered 30 years of unrelenting horror. In that time millions have been killed and millions more have fled their homes. Those who have committed the most terrible abuses have enjoyed impunity rather than faced justice. Afghan society has been devastated.
“Repairing this damage can’t be done overnight. It will take a long time for the economic, social and psychological scars to heal. The international community has to recognise this, and to understand that Afghanistan needs more than military solutions. It needs support for agriculture, better infrastructure and schools and health services must improve.

A plea for peace

Ordinary Afghans want peace and an end to conflict, and they want to see the root causes of fighting dealt with. Poverty is driving the conflict. One man told us: ‘If people are jobless they are capable of anything." The international community must bear his words in mind and provide more effective aid to help kick-start the Afghan economy.
Looking over the 30 years of conflict since the Soviets invaded in 1979, one in ten people questioned had been imprisoned at least once. One in five (21%) were tortured, either in jail or by the various armed groups. A third of those tortured were women. Just 1% reported receiving any form of compensation or apology for the harm done to them.
Azim Mohammad from Nangarhar said: “What do you think the effect that two million Afghans martyred, seventy per cent of Afghanistan destroyed and our economy eliminated has had on us? Half our people have been driven mad. A man who is thirty or forty years old looks like he is seventy. We always live in fear. We are not secure anywhere in Afghanistan.”
There was a widespread feeling amongst all the participants that poverty, corruption, injustice and civilian suffering have fuelled the spread of insecurity.

What government can do

As part of the research, Afghans were asked to give their suggestions to the politicians, military forces, insurgent groups and the international community. They wanted the establishment of the rule of law at all levels, a crackdown on corruption and an end to the culture of impunity.
Many thought foreign aid from governments does not currently reach the people who need it most, and wanted to see this money improve health and education services and help create jobs.
There was a strong sense that both sides on the conflict must prioritize the safety of Afghan civilians. There have been 2,021 civilian casualties up until October this year.
Hobbs said: “The Afghans’ desire that their safety should be paramount means that all sides must stop targeting civilians. The international forces should tighten their restrictions on air strikes and night raids. They must transparently investigate all allegations of harm to civilians and provide appropriate forms of redress.
“Afghans surveyed also felt that the Taliban and other insurgents should immediately stop targeting civilians and stop taking refuge in civilian areas, which puts normal Afghans on the front lines of the conflict."

Read more

Download the report: The Cost of War, Afghan Experience of Conflict, 1978- 2009.
The Cost of War, a moving story in pictures
Oxfam's emergency work in Afghanistan

Afghanistan needs more than military solutions. It needs support for agriculture, better infrastructure and schools and health services must improve.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International

Notes to editors

  1. This research was jointly designed and/or carried out by the following organizations: Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF), Afghan Peace and Democracy Act (APDA), Association for the Defence of Women’s Rights (ADWR), Cooperation Centre for Afghanistan (CCA), Education Training Center for Poor Women and Girls of Afghanistan (ECW), Oxfam GB, Organization for Human Welfare (OHW), Sanayee Development Organization (SDO) and The Liaison Office (TLO). Ashley Jackson of Oxfam International is the author.
  2. Research was conducted in 14 provinces across Afghanistan from January to April 2009 with 704 randomly selected men and women. The research consisted of structured interviews and group discussions. The provinces were chosen from across the country: four in the north, three in the east, two in the south, one in the west and four in the center. Most of the research sites were not experiencing active conflict when the research was conducted, although this has now changed due to the rapid deterioration in security.
  3. The majority of researchers were Afghans and from the same province being surveyed when possible.
  4. 48% of the respondents were female, 52% were male. The average age was 33.5 years old, with ages for the respondents ranging from 12 to 87.
  5. Afghan names used for quotes have been changed to protect their identities.
  6. When surveyed over the drivers of conflict:
  • 70% blamed poverty and unemployment
  • 48% blamed corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government
  • 36% blamed the Taliban
  • 25% blamed other countries, particularly neighboring Pakistan and Iran.