President Ashraf Ghani on Monday officially launched Afghanistan’s first ever assessment of the country’s cities as part of the National Unity Government’s priority to standardize urbanization, formulate spatial development plans and establish national policies so as to ensure equitable service delivery and effective management of the transition facing the country.
In a detailed report – entitled State of Afghan Cities 2015 – the key message that comes across is that “urbanization is not a problem to be solved but, if done well, is an effective instrument and driver of prosperity, stabilization and state building”.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Ghani said the State of Afghan Cities 2015 “is for better urban planning and policy-making to improve lives, especially of women and youth”.
The assessment project, launched in November last year was developed and implemented by three key partners – the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) and Kabul Municipality. Technical assistance was provided by UN-Habitat and financial assistance by the Australian government.
In his message, Minister for Urban Development Affairs Sadat Mansoor Naderi said that cities worldwide drive economies but in Afghanistan basic information for urban areas does not really exist. However, with this assessment and report, essential data will help harness urbanization as a driver of development.
“It will ensure the outcomes are pragmatic and reflect the ground realities across the country,” he said.
Kabul’s acting mayor, Abdul Ahad Wahid, said that the country’s capital is home to the largest share of the total urban population in Afghanistan – a city that has witnessed considerable growth in the past ten years.
He said the findings that have been produced under this program are of enormous value for Kabul as the new land use and dwelling maps now lay the foundation for detailed planning of future districts.
He said: “This will help improve municipal revenue collection.”
The program organizers developed an innovative, reliable and cost-effective methodology to examine the state of Afghanistan’s major cities and used recent, high-resolution satellite images to extract key land-use and dwelling data.
According to MUDA, this was combined with field checks and city workshops that engaged local stakeholders.
Through this methodology, the results show that Afghanistan’s urbanization has largely been informal and cities have expanded rapidly in the past 10 years without effective spatial plans. The result has been informal, low-density sprawl, increasing socio-spatial inequality and significant infrastructure deficiencies. It is estimated that Afghanistan’s urban population in total is about eight million people.
The study found that of the 34 major cities researched, Kabul dominates with an estimated 41 percent of the urban population.
Countrywide, urban dwelling stock is estimated to be 962,467 dwelling units, comprised mostly of irregular and hillside housing – 54 percent and seven percent respectively – while regular housing is at only 31 percent.
Apartments comprise only four percent of the national urban housing stock and are mostly found in Kabul.
The report stated that although access to improved water sources is relatively high in cities (71 percent), this “figure masks severe quality issues”.
However, only 14 percent of urban dwellings are connected to the piped water network.
In addition, access to improved sanitation is low (29 percent) and no Afghan city has a comprehensive sewerage system.
“Solid waste management is the most visible municipal governance deficiency and the largest municipal expenditure,” stated the report.
As such, it was found that Afghan cities face considerable challenges and that due to a lack of effective management of the urbanization process, along with the rapid growth of cities, the past 10 years has seen an increase in both poverty and inequality.
The report found that almost one third of the urban population lives in poverty and is denied access to affordable and well-located land, housing and services.
“A key challenge facing Afghanistan is how to manage its inevitable urban transition,” read the report.
However, according to Naderi, MUDA is currently leading the drafting of an Urban National Priority Program and associated urban development programs.
“Together these will lay the foundations for a sustainable urban future,” he said.
Urban growth has largely been fueled over the last few years by return refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and rural-urban economic migrants.
Since 2002, over 5.8 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, most settling in urban areas, stated the report.