How worried should we be about the growing population of Afghanistan?

I am not really on top of the latest news, in fact, I’m usually a week behind since I like to slowly digest The Guardian Weekly (which arrives sometime between Monday-Wednesday in Stockholm rather than Saturday)…. But a friend recently introduced me to the idea of slow news, so here is my hand at that.

A trend I’ve picked up in the past months which worries me are the interconnected stories of Afghanistan’s and specifically Kabul’s growing population.

Kabul is one of the world’s 5th fastest growing cities says this article from Dec 11. 

Though exact data is impossible to obtain (the last official census was conducted in 1979), Kabul is estimated to be the fifth fastest growing city in the world, with a population which has ballooned from approximately 1.5 million in 2001 to around 6 million people now. The rapid urbanisation is taking a heavy toll on a city originally designed for around 700,000 people. An estimated 70% of Kabul’s residents live in informal or illegal settlements.

Kabul’s economy is primarily driven by illicit business, such as opium trade, which hit an all time high last year. Having seen slums amidst ‘poppy palaces’ this hits home hard!

And following the Peshawar massacre, Afghans have taken some of the blame and are being driven out from homes they’ve lived in for decades, as described in this Feb 7 article.

Pakistan is home to at least 1 million Afghans without official documents, who are exposed to the risk of sudden eviction. Another 1.7 million Afghans are registered refugees in Pakistan. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced plans to expel all undocumented Afghans from the province. The authorities did the same in 2012, but backed down after international pressure.

More recently, this has been fuelled by the outcry against Sharbat Gula, the woman behind the iconic National Geographic photograph, who illegally obtained a highly sought after Pakistani ID card.

I worry about what this means for the safety and security of the 5 million people living in Kabul beyond its capacity (population of 6 million in a city designed for 700,000, with an estimated growth to 8 million in coming years), with a strengthening insurgency in many of the rural areas, and growing hostility from Pakistani neighbours. I worry what discontented and poverty stricken homeless million in Kabul means for ISIS recruitment which is on the rise in Afghanistan. 

Most of all, I wonder why our governments spent billions of dollars on the war without thinking of its effects. Like ensuring that a few urban planners were hired?

But to end with some encouraging news following women’s day: Afghan men wearing Burqa’s in solidarity for women’s rights in the streets of Kabul.

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