2006 Poll: Strife Erodes Afghan Optimism

Urban/Rural

In addition to regional differences, there are big gaps between urban and rural Afghans. In the area of women's rights, for example, 85 percent in urban areas say they're good; that falls to 68 percent of rural residents (again, about equal numbers of women and men alike).

Other progress, to the extent it's occurred, also has been uneven. Local medical services are rated positively by 71 percent of urban residents, up from 54 percent last year -- but there's been essentially no change among the nearly 80 percent of Afghans who live in rural areas. Ratings of infrastructure are up, likewise, among the urban minority, but less so in rural areas. Conversely, ratings of electrical supply are up modestly among rural Afghans, apparently thanks to the increased provision of generators. Among city dwellers, however, electricity complaints have slightly worsened.

Attitudinally, urban residents are more distressed politically -- just 45 percent say the country's going in the right direction, compared to 58 percent in rural areas.

Economy and Demographics

On top of their other woes, there's been a 10-point drop in the number of Afghans who say the economy's in good shape -- now at 31 percent. And just 34 percent give a positive rating to the availability of jobs and economic opportunity where they live, unchanged from last year.

There have been some development gains. While just 31 percent rate the local roads, bridges and infrastructure positively, that's up somewhat from 24 percent last year. And 34 percent report owning an electric generator, well up from 20 percent last year.

Indeed, the provision of at least some power is a major accomplishment. While 41 percent of Afghans report having no electrical power whatsoever (rising to 52 percent in rural areas), that's down from 58 percent last year. But even this pace is grating: Most power is from generators -- just two in 10 get it from power lines -- and of all local services, power supply continues to be the single biggest complaint. Just 21 percent rate theirs as good.

There's also been little advance in the presence of household appliances or other goods in the past year. Just one in 100 Afghans has a land line telephone; 38 percent live in a household with a mobile phone, but a wide majority remains phone-free.

Urban/rural divides mark these: Eight in 10 city-dwellers have a mobile phone, compared with 27 percent in rural areas. Ninety-six percent of city residents have a television, compared with 32 percent in rural areas. In urban areas, 52 percent own a refrigerator; in rural areas (again, home to eight in 10 Afghans) that dives to six percent.

Just 13 percent of Afghan households have a car, while 43 percent own a work animal.

The median age (among adults only) is 32, compared with 44 in the United States. Four in 10 Afghans are illiterate, 47 percent have had no formal education whatsoever, barely over four in 10 have completed primary school, just 18 percent are high school graduates and a bare 3 percent have had a university education.

Leading occupations among the employed are skilled workers or artisans (23 percent of those who are working), farmers (20 percent) and laborers (15 percent), with an additional 14 percent identifying themselves as managers. Evidencing the deep poverty in which Afghans live, nearly three-quarters report monthly household incomes of fewer than 12,000 Afghanis -- the equivalent of $244, or less.

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