Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Spinning Afghanistan 

From your mainstream media: how to report on the Afghan disaster - and have a free kick at the United States - in one easy step:

"Three years after the United States drove the Taliban out and vowed to rebuild Afghanistan, the war-shattered country ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the U.N. 2004 Human Development Index, according to a new report from the United Nations.

"It is trailed only by five countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone."
Pity the people who only glance at the opening paragraphs of news stories, because we have to wait until the sixth para to get a fuller context:

"While there has been rapid progress, said Zphirin Diabr, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Program, the country has a long way to go just to get back to where it was 20 years ago."
Yep, 20 years ago. Damn the America for not being able to reverse in three years the legacy of (over) two decades consisting of 11 years of brutal occupation, followed by another few years of equally brutal civil war, and a few more years of stone age Islamofascist government. How about: "America cannot achieve miracles"?

But paragraph five is even more intriguing:

"Despite the problems, Afghanistan has shown remarkable progress in the three years since the U.S.-led war in 2001, the report said. More than 54 percent of school-age children are enrolled in school, including 4 million high school students. The economy is making great strides, with growth of 16 percent in nondrug gross domestic product in 2003 and predicted growth of 10 to 12 percent annually for the next decade."
OK, if a country that over the past three years has shown "remarkable progress" now still lingers at number 173 out of 178, then where the hell did it start off? 208 out of 178? Whatever the questions about methodology, however, the study tells you something about the challenges facing Afghanistan (you can access the complete study here).

I know that these things are notoriously difficult to measure and quantify, but sadly the Human Development Report ranking, which takes into account anything from mortality and literacy rates to GDP and number of parliamentary seats being held by women, does not consider the rather important political dimension: is country a democracy? Do people enjoy freedoms of speech, of association, of conscience? Can they expect a night-time visit from the secret police or indeed to end their life in a mass grave? All important considerations when thinking about "human development", I would have thought (you can read all the stats and rankings, in PDF,


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