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Afghanistan situation 'perilous'

U.N. report card sees risk of chaos

United Nations Development Programme
Hamid Karzai

(CNN) -- A new report warns more must be done to help Afghanistan emerge from poverty or it risks slipping back into chaos.

The report, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) identifies jobs, health, education and dignity as crucial elements in warding off Afghanistan's potential descent into the category of a failed state.

The report ranks Afghanistan a dismal 173rd out of 178 countries surveyed in terms of human development, with five sub-saharan African nations faring worse.

Failure in Afghanistan would pose a threat not just to its own people, but to the international community as well, the report warned.

"This is a perilous moment -- the potential for backsliding is huge," Sarah Burd-Sharps from the UNDP told CNN.

"The international community must remain engaged and work with the Afghanistan government," she said.

The "National Human Development Report: Security with a Human Face", gives a mixed picture of the overall state of the war-ravaged country, which from 1996 until 2001 was governed by the Taliban.

A U.S.-led coalition force entered Afghanistan in the hunt for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. That subsequently led to the formation of a new government in Afghanistan and elections last year.

The UNDP report said some progress had been made since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, such as a booming economy, a record number of students enrolled in high school, and some farmers replacing opium with crops such as wheat.

But there was also a litany of negatives.

Corruption remains a problem, the report said, with much of that money going to local warlords.

Afghanistan has the worst education system in the world, and one of the lowest adult literacy rates, it added.

And Afghanistan is now the world's major producer of illegal narcotics, the report said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wrote the forward for the 288-page report, and concedes it "paints a gloomy picture of the status of human development after two decades of war and destruction".

"Curbing corruption, bringing reconstruction gains to all regions of Afghanistan, drawing in foreign investment in a secure involvement and opening up the political process to participation remain the top priorities," Karzai wrote.

"As the country now turns a new leaf, our ambition is to give hope to each and every Afghan."

On the plus side, Afghanistan's economy is growing at least 25 percent annually, and over the next decade is expected to grow by at least 10 percent per year.

More than three million people forced from their homes have returned, and some four million children have enrolled in school -- more than ever before.

However, nearly three-quarters of all adult Afghans are illiterate and few girls go to school at all in many provinces.

Most of the country's income is being mopped up by warlords with strong political and military connections, creating a dangerous gap between rich and poor and between the cities and the countryside.

Half of all Afghans are poor, the report said.

As a result, the average life expectancy for an Afghan is 44.5 years, 20 years less than in neighboring countrie.

One Afghan woman dies in pregnancy every 30 minutes and the country is the world leader in infant deaths caused by contaminated water.

The report was also critical of the U.S.-led military engagement in Afghanistan, saying it helped produce a climate of "fear, intimidation, terror and lawlessness" and neglected the longer-term threat to security posed by inequality and injustice, according to the Associated Press.

It also described reconstruction projects sponsored by the U.S. military as "inadequate and dangerous," the AP reported.

It also said so-called "factional elements" were still in power in many areas, with their own privatized security forces, outside of central government control.

And hostage-taking, street gangs, domestic violence and torture still existed, it said.

Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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