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Population and Demograhy


No population census has been conducted in Afghanistan since 1979. The last three decades have been times of war and conflict, making it not possible to take ahead plans for developing a sound statistical and census system.  There are several population estimates that range from 24 million to 32 million, and with such a significant variation certain aspects related to analyzing food security are extremely strained (i.e. calculating the food balance sheet).


Despite the lack of such a system, the establishment of a Central Statistics Organization contributed some progress.  In the specific case of population, some estimation has been done.  There are some facts that make elusive a population count. The high fertility and mortality rates, and large-scale international migrations – including consecutive massive waves of refugees and, more recently, returnees – made a significant impact on the overall size and structure of the population. In addition, geographic differentiation in fertility and mortality, as well as internal migration and IDP movements has had major effects on the internal distribution of the population.


The above has given room to several stakeholders making their own estimations, which leads to a competition of credibility.


CSO -therefore, official data- made a pre census (2003-2005) estimate for 2007 of 25.1 million people, including 1.5 million nomads (ethnic Kuchis).   The natural annual growth rate used by CSO is 2.03 percent.


Afghanistan has a predominantly young population, where almost 50 percent (12 million) is under 15 years of age, and the group over 65 years old represent less than three percent of the total population. The proportion of population under 15 is among the highest in the world and significantly higher than that of neighbouring countries (ranging from 26 percent in Iran to around 39 percent in Pakistan and Tajikistan, according to UN data, quoted by the NRVA).


The young age composition contributes to a very high dependency ratio: for every 100 persons in the working age 15-59, there are 113 persons in the less productive ages of under-fifteen and 60 and over, who are dependent for income and subsistence. This figure implies a heavy burden to the working-age population, the government and the society at large.


The sex distribution in the Afghan population is tilted toward males: around 51 percent is male and 49 percent of the population is female, reflecting a high overall sex ratio of 105 males per 100 females.


Afghanistan has the highest fertility rate among South Asia countries (6.3 versus average of 3.3). Seventy nine percent of Afghan populations is living in rural areas; while the rest is settled in urban areas.


As a consequence of war and conflict, around 3.3 percent of the households (HH) are led by females. Due to education disadvantages, female headed households are the most likely vulnerable group of population.


According to NRVA 2007-08 (based on CSO population estimates), 31 percent of the population is food insecure, representing 7.3 million individuals, as shown in the following map.


     Estimated percentage of food insecure population

 AFG_Est_PropOfFoodInsecurePop.png (Download full size map)

 SOURCE: NRVA 2007-08


Forty two percent of Afghan population is living below the Cost of Basic Needs (CBN) poverty line (708 Afs./person/day, equivalent approximately to US $ 14).


Rural and urban Population

Based on NRVA, around 80 percent of the total population of Afghanistan is living in rural areas (74 percent rural and 6 percent Nomads), while the remaining 20 percent are urban residents. Only 11 province main cities are considered urban (high populous urban).  This is based in the reported livelihood of people and the availability of urban facilities and services.  For the rest, the livelihood of the population is considered rural based.


According to the NRVA, the majority of the poor come from rural areas. The main characteristic of the rural poverty is high food insecurity and a lack of access to infrastructure and basic public services. Illiteracy is prevalent among rural Afghans and the general level of education is low. Rural households are highly dependable on agriculture. However, non-farm activities have started to play a bigger role in the coping strategy of the rural poor. The poorest among the rural households are those who live in remote and mountainous area, whose head is illiterate or without any education, as well as those who do not possess land or livestock.


Special Group; Kuchi (Nomadic Pastoralists)

The National Multi-sectoral Assessment of Kuchi (NMAK-2004) estimated 2.4 million Kuchi populations across the country. Of this, around one million (40 percent)have recently settled due to loss of livestock and, particularly in the north, security threats and the conversion of pasture land into agricultural land. Only 1.5 million (60 percent) remain as active migrants.


Pastures make the main source of food for Kuchis’ livestock. Lack of access to pasture can adversely affect their livestock productivity and, therefore, their income. On average 37 percent of the Kuchi declared disputes with settled people on the right to use pasture. Twenty two percent of Kuchi have changed their migration rout from their preferred summer location due to restriction by local commanders/warlords and attitudes of resident people. 


Few Kuchi households (16 percent) own land, although 98 percent own livestock. The average livestock ownership for Kuchi in Afghanistan is 50 shoat (Sheep and Goat), 1.7 camels and 1.2 cows.  The estimated minimum number of shoat for a ten-member Kuchi household to subsist is 100 shoats.  As a result, at least half of the Kuchi need income from other source for their survival.


Kuchi income from labouring is limited due to lack of skills and limited duration of demand.


Following with NMAK-2004 results, access to safe drinking water was 10 percent in comparison to 31 percent national figure based on NRVA 2005. Water source is also one of the other major source of conflict between settled and Kuchi population, which needs immediate attention.


Access to education facilities is scarce for Kuchi due to their specific lifestyle. Overall 6 percent of them (8 percent of men and 4 percent of women) are literate, compared to the national average of 28 percent (NRVA 2005).


Lack of access to health facilities due to long distances and scarcity affects this population, especially in summer time, when they move looking for pasture. The graph below shows the average time to reach health facilities in summer and winter:


Graph: Average distance to health facilities (on foot)


Note: TBA = Traditional Birth Attendant



Veterinarian services are a Kuchi priority demand not being attended.  Given the fact that their livelihood is centred on livestock, this represents a significant risk.


The livelihood of this population does not allow for good food diversity.  Access to markets is limited, as well as access to cash income, except in fall season, when they sell their livestock.  In general, the supply of public services is not in line with their migratory patterns.





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