No comprehensive census based upon systematically sound methods has ever beentaken in Afghanistan. Most population statistics rely on estimates and samples.Successive governments have manipulated figures for their own politicalobjectives. UN agencies, hundreds of NGOs, as well as bilateral agencies usedifferent figures to suit their purposes in designing assistance programs.Furthermore, instability caused by the Soviet-Afghan war and the subsequentcivil war resulted in massive movements of uprooted peoples. These factors alsomake demographic sampling necessarily imprecise.

The most scientific demographic survey carried out in Afghanistan was alsoone of the first. Conducted in 1972-74 by the State University of New York(SUNY) for the United States Agency for International Development (AID), incooperation with the Afghan government, this survey reported a settledpopulation of 10.18 million. It did not cover the entire country, and thenomadic population was not surveyed. The nomads were separately estimated atslightly more than 1 million.

An official census was later hurriedly taken over a three-week period in June1979 after the establishment of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan(PDPA), with UN assistance. This count estimated the population to be 13.9million, including 800,000 nomads, but it is little credited since only 56percent of the population was enumerated due to mounting resistance in thecountryside. Grossly inflated figures were added for the rest.

The Statistical Yearbook published in 1983 by the Babrak Karmalgovernment during the Soviet occupation claimed a total population of 15.96million for 1981-82. Presumably this included over five million refugees inPakistan and Iran. (see Refugees, this ch.).

Afghanistan's population in 1995 was estimated at 18.4 million by thePopulation Reference Bureau, a nonprofit agency based in Washington, D.C. Thisestimate, like others before it, is based on unreliable data, as the Bureauitself cautions. The Human Development Report, 1996 estimates that thepopulation will rise to 26.7 million in the year 2000, using, however, a highgrowth rate of 6.1 percent. A rate of around 2.2 percent is more typicallyemployed. UNDP calculations give a 1993 crude birth rate of 5l/1000, a crudedeath rate of 22/1000, and an infant mortality rate of 163/1000. Estimates ofthe average life expectancy at birth was 43.7 years. Again, growth figuresdepend on what is taken into account -- refugees, war dead estimated to rangefrom three-quarters of a million to a million and a half, birth and death rates-- all of which are open to question.

The average population density was calculated in 1993 at 23.4 per squarekilometer, but it varied widely between provinces: from 489.4 per squarekilometer in Kabul to 0.7 in Nimroz, a province in the southwest with vast sandyand stony deserts. Residence was also unevenly distributed between rural andurban settlements, with over 35,000 rural settlements, but only sixty-four urbancenters. Probably no more than ten of these centers are true cities, and othertowns could be considered. Again, numbers depend on definitions. The UnitedNations reported that eighty-one percent of the population lived in rural areasin 1993.

What is important is that the gradual rural-urban migration noticeable over aperiod of several decades increased rapidly during the 1960s as the governmentlaid out new road systems and quickened development. This trend acceleratedduring the Soviet-Afghan War as internally displaced persons (IDPs) fled thewar-torn countryside for the relative safety of the cities. A number of majorcities such as Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad, and Mazar-e Sharif absorbed IDPs ingreat numbers, causing overcrowding and rising demands for city-providedservices. By 1985, unconfirmed reports placed Kabul's population at over twomillion, more than a 100 percent increase in less than a decade. Since themujahidin took possession of Kabul in 1992, however, the incessant fighting bywarring factions for control of the capital has caused the population to swelland diminish according to the level of security at any given moment.


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