The development in the education sector is considered to be one of the major success stories in Afghanistan. Currently 8.2 million Afghan children attend school. Girls account for 40 per cent of the students.

Facts about Afghanistan

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Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Presidential elections were held in the spring of 2014. Former President Karzai, who had been in power since 2002, could not run for re-election. After two election rounds and lengthy political turmoil involving accusations of electoral fraud, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah finally entered into an agreement on a government of national unity. Ghani became president, and Abdullah assumed a position similar to that of prime minister.

The economy ran on low gear throughout 2014. The World Bank estimates economic growth to have amounted to 1.5–2.0 per cent in 2014. The security situation and uncertainty regarding the outcome of the presidential elections caused investors to await the course of events during 2014.

Afghanistan will continue to remain highly dependent on aid for many years to come. Government revenues continued to fail in 2014, causing a serious liquidity crisis that needed to be alleviated by aid donors.

Afghanistan is one of the world's most corrupt countries, and is ranked as no. 172 (out of 174) on Transparency International's corruption index. Corruption is rife in most areas, including the health sector, the education sector, the judicial system, the police and the armed forces. Weak legal institutions and impunity are major obstacles to the fight against corruption.

A number of demographic indicators, such as birth rates and infant mortality, show a positive trend. These developments are most likely the result of a general modernization in the education and health sectors.

Improvements are noticeable several areas that concern people's daily lives. These include education, health, food, market availability of products and housing conditions. There is a marked increase in the availability and use of mobile telephones, radios, TVs and the Internet.

Major challenges remain with regard to refugees and internally displaced persons. Approximately 2.5 million Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 600 000–700 000 internally displaced persons within Afghanistan.

Development cooperation with Afghanistan

The important areas for Norwegian development cooperation with Afghanistan are good governance, education, rural development, security and women, gender equality and human rights.

Norwegian aid is channelled through the UN, the World Bank and Norwegian and international NGOs. The multi-donor Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) is the main channel used by Norway to support the priorities set by the Afghan government. The fund is administered by the World Bank and its priorities have included improving public revenue management.

ARTF grants support to the authorities' operational budget and to 21 programmes that include education, agriculture, rural development, social development, infrastructure and governance. Norway provided NOK 241 million to ARTF in 2014.

Good governance

Key remaining challenges include a weak judicial system, extensive corruption and widespread negative attitudes to women's participation in society. Many government structures still have weak capacity and competence, despite a certain amount of progress during recent years, especially at the central level.

Local development councils

Good governance is included in a number of the projects funded by ARTF. One of the programmes that Norway is monitoring closely is the rural village development programme NSP. Through NSP, Norway has helped establish 33 000 locally elected development councils in all of the country's provinces.

The council members have attended training courses to learn about poverty analyses, gender roles, women's rights and conflict resolution, as well as how to write applications for support. As a result, the councils function as effective structures for local governance and political and social development. This has helped develop local Afghan communities. The councils have identified 85 000 local development measures, and a total of USD 1.5 billion has been allocated to the councils for implementation of these measures.

Civil society is active and is exerting a growing influence. This notwithstanding, formal dialogues with the authorities are often of a symbolic, rather than a genuine nature. Large parts of civil society depend on financial support from the international community.


Development of democracy is a key area, and in 2014 Norway continued to grant support to the UNDP programme ELECT II, which since 2012 has been engaged in efforts to enable the Afghan election commission to implement the 2014 presidential elections and the parliamentary elections planned for 2015. This is mainly an institution-building project, but it is also intended to spread knowledge about democracy and increase election turnout rates.

The practical preparations for the presidential elections went relatively well, and the first election round was held as planned. When the elections went to a second round, the election commission was also able to arrange it within a reasonable time. Although the practical preparations proceeded fairly successfully, there is still a lot to be done to eliminate electoral fraud.

The Norwegian Embassy in Kabul also granted support to a smaller-scale project through the Afghan Women's Network (AWN) to the tune of NOK one million in 2014. The project provides information to women in both rural and urban areas about democracy and the importance of voting in the elections, as well as practical advice on how to register as a voter. The Norwegian support to ELECT II and AWN helped more Afghans gain information about democracy and the importance of holding elections, and helped raise the election turnout rates among men and women alike.

Three Norwegian organizations, the Afghanistan Committee, Norwegian Church Aid and the Norwegian Refugee Council, as well as the international organizations ACTED, DACAAR and the Aga Khan Development Network are working with local authorities and coordinate their activities with them. This helps the efforts to improve governance at the local level.

Support to the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, which is earmarked for payment of wages to Afghan police officers, was reintroduced in 2014 with a disbursement of NOK 60 million. Election support of NOK 30 million was channelled through the UNDP, and the multi-donor fund Tawanmandi, which supports civil society, received NOK nine million in support from Norway.


The development of the education sector is considered one of the major success stories in Afghanistan. According to the World Bank, altogether 8.2 million children are now attending school. The proportion of girls on a national basis amounts to approximately 40 per cent, but remains under 30 per cent in rural areas.

At the same time, major challenges remain. Many children fail to attend school, one-half of the schools have no proper buildings and one-half of the teachers have no proper training. Norway grants support to organizations that build schools and provide education to children and youth. See also the description of the efforts undertaken by Norwegian organizations, below.

Nationwide surveys show that education is among the five factors that people in Afghanistan most often refer to as reasons for the progress that has been achieved. As regards satisfaction with basic social services in local communities, education tends to enjoy favourable reviews.

In recent years there has been a steady rise in literacy among Afghan men and women. However, the general level of literacy in Afghanistan remains low: 80 per cent of Afghan men can read and write, but only 17 per cent of women are literate according to the World Bank.

The multi-donor trust fund ARTF grants support to the educational programme EQUIP, which focuses on equal access to basic education with special emphasis on girls. Their instruments include grants to improve school buildings, teacher training and competence enhancement for school administrators. More than 8000 classrooms have been built and approximately 30 000 newly graduated teachers have entered the educational system. The total number of teachers now exceeds 200 000. More than 11 000 scholarships have been granted to women students in teacher training colleges.

Building schools for girls

Norway has helped fund the construction of schools undertaken by the Danish humanitarian organization DAART. In 2014, the organization completed three girls' schools and a co-educational school in Faryab. There has been a general shortage of girls' schools in this district, and this provided more girls with an opportunity to attend school. The project also helped provide local employment, since priority is given to use of local labour and materials. DAART started to build a boarding school for girls in Faryab, but this project was delayed because of a land dispute. The goal is for the boarding school to permit more girls to continue their education.

The organization ACTED continued to provide literacy training in Faryab. Several hundred persons have attended these courses over the past few years.

Even though the number of children who attend school has increased considerably, there are still concerns that the quality of the education is insufficient. There is a growing number of teachers, an increasing proportion of whom are women. This is of crucial importance to the girls' educational opportunities.

The high drop-out rate of girls from school constitutes a particular problem. For girls to continue their education beyond the basic level, a change in attitudes is required. In addition, more boarding schools must be built for girls who do not have the opportunity to stay with relatives.

Rural development

Despite considerable urbanization during the last decade, Afghanistan remains a largely rural society. Agriculture is fundamental to the Afghan economy, providing employment for more than one-half of the population. Agriculture has seen a major growth over the last three years. This also has a more sinister side to it, since the proportion of agricultural land devoted to the cultivation of opium poppies increased throughout 2013 and 2014.

There is large pressure on land and water resources in the Afghan countryside, and there is a need to find alternative livelihoods in addition to agriculture. Many places have limited health and educational facilities, and the infrastructure is often of poor quality.

For many years, Afghanistan has been a dumping ground for cheap and harmful pesticides. A multi-year project under the auspices of the FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture received renewed support in 2014. The goal of the project is to promote viable, environmentally friendly and organic practices to combat plant diseases. The project also helped reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, by providing participants with training in better farming methods. This training helped increase harvests, for some products by up to 40–50 per cent. The farmers' production costs were reduced, which thereby helped increase incomes.

Integrated rural development programmes that encompass agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry, health, literacy, basic and vocational training, infrastructure and renewable energy receive support through voluntary organizations.

A project by the organization ACTED for sustainable rural development in Faryab has resulted in increased harvests and incomes, better health and competence enhancement for women and youth.

The organization DACAAR reports improved access to clean drinking water for nearly 86 000 persons. Training in hygiene and access to hygiene kits have helped improve hygiene and reduce disease. Farmers have been trained in cultivation of products that provide a better yield as well as greenhouse cultivation techniques, resulting in higher incomes.

The Afghanistan Committee also reports better harvests and increased sources of income as a result of their projects.

Human rights, women and gender equality

The human rights situation in Afghanistan remains challenging in most areas, despite a certain amount of progress in the last decade. The right to education and health are areas where progress has been made, although there is still a long way to go before the situation can be described as satisfactory.

The security situation, the lack of judicial structures and widespread corruption are hindrances to the human rights efforts. Impunity is widespread. A generally low level of education and limited knowledge about human rights are further obstacles to the implementation of national legal frameworks and international conventions.

Although considerable progress has been made since 2001 in terms of women's rights, women remain underrepresented in all areas of economic and political activity. There is little correspondence between the legal provisions that have been enacted to protect women's rights and the comprehensive discrimination of women that takes place in practice.

Violence against women, rape and honour killings occur regularly. A number of civil society organizations actively seek to improve the situation of women and to keep women's rights on the agenda.

The situation with regard to freedom of speech and the press is relatively favourable when compared to other countries in the region. Nevertheless, 2014 remained a challenging year for Afghan journalists and media because of the presidential elections, but the situation improved once the election process was over. Human rights activists have enjoyed relatively good opportunities for their work, even though many of them are concerned about their own safety.


Norway contributed close to NOK four million to the cultural sector in Afghanistan in 2014. The collaboration between Den Nationale Scene [The National Stage] in Bergen, the Kabul Theatre and Kabul University continued in 2014. The project continued to build competence, quality and professionalism in the theatre. Previously, the project has contributed to the physical reconstruction of the theatre building and procurement of technical equipment. The theatre is now better equipped to stage professional performances, which has helped develop a more vibrant and active cultural sector in Kabul.

Through the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Norway has helped the restoration of cultural heritage sites and preservation of traditional forms of art and culture.


Afghanistan's Ministry of Health is supported by the World Bank's multi-donor fund – Health Results Innovation Trust Fund (HRITF) – which is funded by Norway and the UK. Countries can receive financial and professional support to test various forms of performance-based funding for maternal and child health, as well as nutrition. The total support granted up to 2014 amounted to USD 13.4 billion and forms part of a larger programme for performance-based funding in 17 provinces, encompassing hospitals, clinics and other services.

Despite the fact that much remains to be done, in its initial years the programme has produced the following results:

  • The use of modern contraceptives increased from virtually zero to more than 20 per cent.
  • The proportion attending pregnancy check-ups increased from virtually zero to 40 per cent.
  • The number of assisted births increased from virtually zero to over 20 per cent.
  • Vaccination coverage (BCG) increased from 58 per cent to 75 per cent.
  • Child mortality in the area decreased from 257 to 166 per 100 000 live births.

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Norwegian NGOs

In 2014, Norad disbursed more than NOK 96 million to interventions and programmes in Afghanistan. The largest recipient organizations were Norwegian Church Aid, The Afghanistan Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council. The Norwegian organizations that receive support for programmes in Afghanistan have long-standing experience from work there and possess a wealth of knowledge on local conditions.

A large share of this support is granted to complex rural development programmes. These programmes are intended to improve living conditions and reinforce educational and health services. An additional goal is that the programmes should strengthen co-determination and participation by the local population, and by women in particular. One of the programmes supported by the Afghanistan Committee involves training of midwives and nurses who will work in rural areas. During the initial programme period in 2010–2013, altogether 107 women graduated as midwives, close to 80 per cent of whom are on active duty.

Better midwife coverage has helped improve maternal health. In 2010 and 2011, Afghanistan was ranked as the world's worst country in which to give birth, and women had a 1 in 8 chance of dying in connection with pregnancy and childbirth. By 2014, this risk had decreased to 1 in 32. Labour market participation also provides more economic independence for women and helps raise their social status. Many of the midwives have been appointed as members of local decision-making bodies, and they are increasingly included in key processes both locally and nationally.

In 2014, the Afghanistan Committee's educational projects reached out to approximately 60 000 children. For example, two girls' schools in Ghazni were completely renovated, meaning that more than 2000 girls could return to school.

Norwegian Church Aid provides literacy courses for women in particular, with nearly 1000 participants in 2014. NCA reports that literacy makes for a higher status in the local community and helps people obtain better knowledge about their rights. As a result, many become more active participants in the local community.

The Norwegian Refugee Council targets internally displaced people and returning refugees. More than 3000 students in Faryab received various kinds of help from the Norwegian Refugee Council in 2014. Refugee children are an especially vulnerable group, and the NRC helped many of these children gain access to education. A large proportion of these were girls.

Pakistani refugees in eastern Afghanistan constitute a new and vulnerable group. The NRC built 80 classrooms in a refugee camp in Khost in 2014, and 2000 Pakistani children could thus return to school.

Published 29.08.2014
Last updated 02.10.2015