The Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan, nearly two decades after being toppled by a US-led coalition.
Afghans have experienced changes in their lives since the Taliban were in power, in particular, many girls and women have been able to attend school and university.
Now they face an uncertain future.
The Taliban take back control
Encouraged by the withdrawal of US troops, and facing little resistance from Afghan forces, the Taliban quickly regained power within a few weeks.
Many civilians are trying to flee the country, instead of living under strict Islamic law, Sharia, imposed by the Taliban.
How many people have died since 2001?
The 20 years of fighting have claimed the lives of thousands of fighters from both sides, both in Afghanistan and across the border from Pakistan.
The civilian population has also been caught in the crossfire: many deaths were caused by coalition aerial bombardments and targeted attacks by the Taliban.
The number of civilian casualties in 2021 had already surpassed the figure for the same period in 2020, before the Taliban advanced by taking control of the country.
The United Nations attributed the recent surge in civilian deaths to the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – and targeted attacks.
Women and children accounted for 43% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2020.
How many have escaped the fighting?
Years of conflict have forced millions to flee their homes to seek refuge in neighboring countries or seek asylum beyond. Many have been displaced and homeless within Afghanistan, along with the millions facing adversity and hunger.
Last year, more than 400,000 people were displaced by the conflict. Since 2012, some five million people have fled and been unable to return to their homes. According to the UN human rights agency, Afghanistan has the third largest displaced population in the world.
Humanitarian aid agencies are already reporting an increase in internally displaced persons following the Taliban advance. OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says more than 17,500 people arrived in Kabul in the weeks between July 1 and August 15.
The coronavirus pandemic added further pressure on Afghanistan’s national resources, and confinement and restriction of movement have had an impact on the ability of many people to earn money, especially in rural areas.
According to the OCHA, more than 30% of the population faces an emergency or some level of food insecurity crisis.
Many more girls attend school
In the past 20 years, life for many people in Afghanistan has improved. Women have experienced the biggest changes.
The fall of the Taliban regime allowed significant changes and progress in terms of women’s rights and education. In 1999, there was not a single girl enrolled in secondary school and there were only 9,000 in primary school.
By 2003, 2.4 million girls were in school. The figure is now around 3.5 million, and about a third of students at public and private universities are women.
However, according to UNICEF, the UN children’s rights organization, there are still more than 3.7 minors out of school and 60% are girls, mainly due to ongoing conflict and lack of adequate facilities and teachers.
The Taliban assures that they are no longer opposed to the education of women, but according to the humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch, very few Taliban officials allow girls to attend school after puberty in the areas they control.
More opportunities for women
Women have also been participating in public life, holding political office and developing business opportunities. More than 1,000 Afghan women had started their own businesses by 2019, all of these activities had been banned under the Taliban regime.
The constitution was amended to stipulate that women had to hold at least 27% of the seats in Parliament, and in July they held 69 out of 249 seats.
How else has life changed?
Access to mobile phones and the internet has increased, despite the various other infrastructure problems in the country.
More than 8.6 million people – 22% of the population – had access to the internet in January 2021 and millions use social media now.
The use of mobile phones also continues to grow – with more or less 68% of users who own their mobiles. But the UN notes that sporadic cuts to mobile phone service continue to affect communication.
Many people in Afghanistan they don’t have bank accounts – about 80% of adults, which is higher than the average in low-income countries.
In addition to concerns about security, the World Bank indicates that this is mainly due to religious and cultural beliefs, low confidence in the financial sector, and low levels of financial knowledge.
In the capital Kabul, where traditional adobe houses line the hills, the city landscape has changed in the last 20 years, with the construction of a lot of buildings tall to accommodate population expansion.
Kabul was the scene of rapid urbanization in the years after the fall of the Taliban, as people moved from rural districts where fighting continued, and Afghans who fled the Taliban in the 1990s returned home from Pakistan and Iran.
Many still live in poverty
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, although there was relatively rapid economic growth after the US invasion in 2001, when international assistance poured in.
However, growth slowed as the injection of aid fell and the security situation worsened.
A government investigation into living conditions for 2016-2017 found that more than 54% of the population lived below the national poverty line 2,064 Afghans per person per month (equivalent to US $ 31 per month as of January 2017).
That percentage had risen from the previous record of roughly 38% in poverty between 2011-2012.
A more recent poll conducted by Gallup in August 2019, before the pandemic, highlighted that several droughts in recent years affected food security.
He indicated that almost six in 10 Afghans had told them that they had had trouble paying for food in previous years.
Opium as the axis of the rural economy
Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opiate producer, and British authorities estimate that nearly 95% of the heroin arriving in the UK comes from Afghanistan.
According to UN figures, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased significantly in the last 20 years, and only 12 of the 34 provinces of the country are free of poppy crops.
This, despite eradication programs and incentives for farmers to change their crops to products such as pomegranates or saffron.
Although the Taliban imposed a short-lived ban on poppy cultivation in 2001, it has become a multi-million dollar source of income for them and others.
Poppy growers are frequently forced to pay taxes on their profits to militiamen.
Political instability, insecurity and few employment opportunities are considered the main drivers of the increase in poppy production.
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