Insights and Analysis

Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade? Survey of Afghan People Reveals Challenges

December 7, 2016

By Zach Warren

2016 was a year of challenges for Afghanistan. Despite some progress in numbers of children in school and improved health indicators, incidents of violence spread across the country, and the UN logged a record number of civilian casualties. The poor security environment in turn continued to affect Afghanistan’s economy, which is experiencing the slowest growth since 2002.

Afghanistan street in Kandahar

This year just 29.3 percent of Afghans say the country is moving in the right direction, the lowest level of optimism recorded since 2004. Photo/Gulbuddin Elham

A positive sign from the international community was seen in the two major conferences held on on Afghanistan—the NATO Warsaw Summit in July 2016, and the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan in October 2016. Both conferences resulted in new pledges of security and aid to Afghanistan for the next four years, signaling that despite the set-backs, the international community would still support Afghanistan—if Afghanistan could commit to making some major changes, such as repatriating thousands of refugees from Europe and Pakistan.

All of these factors contributed to a dynamic and evolving backdrop for the just-released 2016 Survey of the Afghan People. The annual survey, which remains the country’s broadest and most comprehensive public opinion poll, interviewed more than 12,600 Afghans face-to-face this year across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. This year the survey expanded to include some important new areas concerning migration, youth issues, the Islamic State, and more to capture the critical issues facing Afghanistan today.

Below are key findings from the survey:

• This year just 29.3 percent of Afghans say the country is moving in the right direction, the lowest level of optimism recorded since 2004.

• Among Afghans who say the country is moving in the right direction, the most commonly cited reasons are reconstruction and rebuilding (32.5%), good security (26.6%), active Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) (10.4%), and newly opened schools for girls (10.3%).

• A majority of respondents say the biggest problem facing youth is unemployment (71.2%). Other problems include illiteracy (25.7%), poor economy (16.0%), and drug addiction (13.8%). The lack of higher education opportunities was a more common concern in 2015 (15.3%) compared to this year (7.9%), while lack of youth rights decreased 3.8 percentage points from last year, down to 1.8 percent in 2016.

• Overall, 69.8 percent of Afghans report feeling fear for their personal safety, the highest level in over a decade.

• The percentage of Afghans who say they feel sympathy for armed opposition groups decreased more than 10 percent this year, from 27.5 percent in 2015 to 16.7 percent in 2016.

• General awareness of ISIS/Daesh has increased, from 74.3 percent in 2015 to 81.3 percent this year. At the same time, the perception that ISIS/Daesh is a threat to security decreased, from 54.2 percent in 2015 to 47.9 percent this year.

• When asked if they agree that women should be allowed to work outside the home, more respondents agree in 2016 (74.0%) than ever before. However, after a gradual upward trend since 2009, this year fewer than 20 percent of Afghans say that a woman contributes to their household’s income, down from 22.6 percent in 2015 (likely due to the economic conditions of the country and limited job opportunities).

• This year, the percentage of Afghans expressing a desire to emigrate decreased significantly, from 39.9 percent in 2015 to 29.6 percent in 2016, the largest drop on record in the survey. This decreased desire to migrate is likely linked to a few complex factors, including a shift in the destination’s reception and resettlement policies.

• Public awareness of new development projects has increased in every category of the survey since last year. More than one-third of respondents (34.3%) say they are aware of a project to build or repair roads and bridges in their community, a significant increase from last year’s rate of 30.3 percent.

• There appears to be a small gap between perceptions of corruption and the experience of corruption. In 2016, nearly all Afghans say corruption is a problem in all areas of daily life, with 61.0 percent calling it a major problem and 28.2 percent saying it is a minor problem. While the perception of corruption remains unchanged since last year, the rate at which respondents report actual encounters with corruption in various government institutions has decreased. If this decrease continues, perceptions may eventually “catch up,” but overall perceptions do not yet show a reaction.

• As in previous years, radio remains the most common source of information, with 70.5 percent of respondents receiving news and information from the radio, followed by television (66.4%), mosques (47.5%), and community shuras (39.0%). Use of the internet to obtain news and information increased significantly, from 3.2 percent in 2013 to 11.6 percent in 2016.

Zach Warren is The Asia Foundation’s director of Policy and Research in Afghanistan, and co-author of the Survey of the Afghan People. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.


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