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Kabul, Afghanistan, view from a surrounding mountain. © Shutterstock

  • Total value of UN-Habitat investments in Afghanistan (2008-2016): US$ 291,435,060.
  • Total number of UN-Habitat projects in Afghanistan (2008-2016): 30 projects

Working in partnership with communities across Afghanistan since 1992, UN-Habitat has invested in providing basic services, including shelter, potable water and skills training. It has worked closely with the Government of Afghanistan and local authorities on a wide range of ambitious projects, strengthening institutional capacity, policy support and addressing clear priorities.

General information

UN-Habitat’s work in urban and rural areas of Afghanistan has been based on the principle that the best way to achieve sustainable and cost effective development is through assisting communities to plan and implement development activities that they have clearly identified as their priorities. Communities are partners not beneficiaries in the development process, contributing their skills, resources and expertise. This approach was adopted by the Government of Afghanistan as the methodology to be used in the implementation of its flagship National Solidarity Programme and in its urban development projects, involving policy support and strengthening the capacity of local governments in service delivery. Supporting community based initiatives creates opportunities for women to be active participants in community development and ensures that their priorities are included in the community action plans. UN-Habitat has its presence in ten provinces and five cities of Afghanistan including Kabul.

UN-Habitat projects in Afghanistan

Municipal Governance Support Programme (MGSP)

Location: Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Farah, Bamyan and Nili

Main Partners: Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), Kabul Municipality, Afghanistan Land Authority (ARAZI)

Recognising the importance of land, H.E. President Ashraf Ghani has made urban land regularisation and improving tenure security a priority of his National Unity Government: “We commit ourselves to legalizing all properties that have legal flaws… Since the properties do not have credible legal basis, a vast capital of our people is perpetually under threat. At the same time, one of the results … is that our cities can never take the shape of civic cities and citizens cannot tend to their rights and obligations as citizens.””

The vast majority of urban Afghans live in under-serviced, informal housing with little tenure security and very poor access to basic services such as water and sanitation. This is particularly so in Kabul, where 66% of the dwelling stock is comprised of irregular housing (over 280,000 dwelling units), including 10% of the total dwelling stock located on hillsides. The majority of informal housing can easily be upgraded through a community-based regularization process that improves tenure security, infrastructure and services.

Afghan cities concentrate considerable problems of poverty, inequality, youth exclusion and gender inequality, which are a result of weak municipal governance and insufficient pro-poor focus on shaping inclusive urbanisation. Nearly one-third of the urban population lives in poverty (29%, over 2 million Afghans), denied access to affordable and well located land, housing, and services. Gender inequality is a major challenge in cities with urban women and girls facing significant structural barriers to their full social and economic participation in urban life. Cities are home to a disproportionate number of youth (between 15 and 24), who constitute nearly a quarter of the urban population (23.6%), notably higher than in rural areas (17.8%). Yet cities are not providing jobs and opportunities commensurate with demand with youth becoming increasingly disenfranchised.

As of 2014, the challenges of urban poverty, unemployment, and socio-economic marginalization are getting worse due to the international drawdown and economic slowdown. Urban poor households, IDPs, and female-headed households are, and will continue to be most affected from these macro-economic changes. Yet global experience has shown that urbanisation is a source of development, not simply a ‘problem to be solved’. The inevitable and positive urban transition presents both opportunities and challenges given the current form and structure of the major cities.

The National Unity Government (NUG) of Afghanistan has recognized the transformative role of urbanisation and is prioritizing urbanisation in its ‘Self-Reliance’ reform agenda, noting that cities should be drivers of economic development, and municipalities and urban development can contribute to national state building and peace-building objectives.

Afghanistan is heading now in its ‘Transformation Decade’ (2015-2024) where greater emphasis is being placed on self-sufficiency as international troops withdraw and aid is reduced. For municipalities, this means increasing their local revenues, and spending it more effectively and accountably. This is in line with the stated vision of H.E. President Ashraf Ghani and the NUG:

“By expanding cities we can collect hundreds of millions of dollars through municipalities and since municipalities have the legal right to spend, it is our pledge that we will create the widespread participation of citizens… so that people take part in creating and boosting conditions for urban living.”Experience has shown that the Afghan communities are a key part of the solution. Urban Community Development Councils (CDCs) and Gozar Assemblies (GAs) have demonstrated enormous capacity to organise, find solutions to local social and infrastructure challenges, and engage in peacebuilding efforts. This latent energy needs to be harnessed within a more participatory municipal governance framework and utilised to address local land, planning and governance bottlenecks.”


Future of Afghan Cities Programme (FoAC)

Location: National programme, focusing on five city regions and 20 strategic District Municipalities

Main Partners: Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), Kabul Municipality, Afghanistan Land Authority (ARAZI)

Never before in its history has Afghanistan had such an enormous opportunity to lay strong foundations for a sustainable and prosperous urban future. A combination of forces are currently in place that, if urgently harnessed, can set Afghanistan on a path to harnessing its cities, and their rural-urban linkages, for economic development, improved sub-national governance and stabilization.

This convergence of positive forces includes:

  • The formation of the new National Unity Government (NUG), where urbanization is recognized as a phenomena that can drive economic growth and stabilization;
  • The President and NUG’s commitment to making one of the ten new NPPs an U-NPP;
  • The major refocusing of national government activities, both rural (e.g. NSP4, which is slated to have a greater focus on cluster CDCs and economic development) and urban programming (e.g. an Urban Solidarity/Upgrading Programme);
  • The political ambition to develop a National Urban Policy and Spatial Strategy, and create ‘Metropolitan Regions’ around the major cities;

 The Realizing Self Reliance paper presented at the London Conference on Afghanistan (2014) clearly articulates the reform priority for urban development;

“Making cities the economic drivers for development. In order to do so we need to improve living conditions and service delivery in urban centers. Urbanization will need to be managed by reducing disparity between rural and urban areas and thereby controlling rural-to-urban migration. … Establishing metropolitan development authorities and funds will allow for coordinated development planning and professionalized management.”” (Realising Self-Reliance (2014) National Unity Government of Afghanistan, p.12)


Afghanistan Urban Peacebuilding Programme (AUPP)

Location: Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar, Kunduz, Herat, Farah, Bamyian and Nili Cities

Main Partners: Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), Ministry of Urban Development (MUDA), Kabul Municipality, Ministry of Interior (MoI)

Afghanistan is one of the world’s fastest-urbanizing countries. Although the country’s population remains predominantly rural, the break-neck pace of urban growth ensures that the proportion of citizens living in cities will triple in 35 years. Every year, Afghan cities grow by over 320,000 people placing enormous pressure on local governments and security providers to provide services and achieve safe, peaceful, and inclusive cities.

Cities concentrate the risks associated with insecurity and disorder, such as chronic poverty, steep inequality, and reduced solidarity compared to rural villages. Afghanistan’s cities absorb vast displaced populations and confront urgent demands for basic services and infrastructure. Swollen with rural-urban migrants, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and returnees the cities relegate most of their inhabitants to deprived informal settlements, a situation that aggravates exclusion, illegitimizes the state, and fuels various forms of violence and insecurity. Women and girls, young people, and IDPs and returnees are particularly marginalized and vulnerable, excluded from public space as well as public decision-making, and are disproportionately affected by urban insecurity and exclusion.


Community-Led Urban Infrastructure Programme

Location: Kabul Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, and Jalalabad

Main Partners: Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), Ministry of Urban Development (MUDA), Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD), Municipalities of Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, and Jalalabad

In 2014 the number of security and economic related displaced families has reached a record of 755,011 persons (Sept. 2014, UNHCR). In September 2014 alone 33,240 persons have been displaced. The overwhelming majority are migrating into urban areas considered to be safer, with more livelihood opportunities and access to services. The arrival of such migrants into regional cities as well as Kabul city will rapidly exert pressure on local infrastructure and services exacerbating pre-existing vulnerability conditions. This will impact on the way urban development is managed particularly in settlement planning and providing access to basic services, infrastructure and labour markets.

While much has been achieved to address the needs of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), returnees, rural-urban migrants and the other urban poor, the continuous large numbers of migrants moving towards Kabul and other cities makes it urgent that the new Government through this project can continue to secure and stabilize urban areas through community empowerment and improvement of living conditions of the people.


Local Integration of Vulnerable Excluded & Uprooted People (LIVE-UP)

Location: Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat

Main Partners: Ministry of Refugees & Repatriation (MoRR), Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG); Kabul, Herat & Jalalabad Municipalities

Through the Local Integration of Vulnerable Excluded & Uprooted People (LIVE-UP) project, UN-HABITAT is supporting the Government of Afghanistan to pursue an inclusive, sustainable response to displacement.

Since 2002, over 5.6 million Afghans have returned to Afghanistan after taking refuge in neighbouring countries. In addition there are currently over 850,000 registered Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Afghanistan. Urban areas exert considerable ‘pull factors’ on the displaced, attracted to the relative security and increased economic opportunities offered by cities. This coupled with rural-urban migration has led to the unprecedented growth of Afghanistan’s cities over the last decade. Returnees and IDPs however face major obstacles to re-building their lives, accessing rights and services and fully integrating with local communities. The LIVE-UP project, made possible with the support of the European Commission Delegation to Afghanistan aims to make significant improvements in the lives of some of the most vulnerable Afghans and create a precedent for local integration as a response to displacement.

Afghanistan’s rapid process of urbanisation presents significant challenges as well as opportunities. The development of cities can be harnessed as a tool to improve the access to services, living conditions and economic conditions of the population. The traditional approach to displacement in Afghanistan of creating distinct ‘townships’ for IDPs, typically located large distances from urban areas has been shown to not be an effective or sustainable response to displacement. LIVE-UP aims to integrate displaced communities into the urban fabric, leveraging the benefits of the urbanisation process and giving communities a platform to rebuild their lives.

Through UN-HABITAT’s tried and tested ‘People’s Process’ of service delivery, the project supports communities through the provision of trunk infrastructure, improved access to services and improved shelter for extremely vulnerable households. Afghanistan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation H.E Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi visited for the first time Maslakh IDP Settlement in Injil District, Herat to officially launch the LIVE-UP project. Speaking at the launch Minister Balkhi thanked UN-HABITAT for its commitment and perseverance in assisting displaced Afghans.


National Solidarity Programme (NSP)

Location: Kandahar, Farah, Herat, Bamyan, Parwan, Kapisa, Balkh, Panjshir, Nangarhar

Main Partners: Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD); Provinces of Kandahar, Farah, Herat, Bamyan, Parwan, Kapisa, Balkh, Panjshir, Nangarhar. After two decades of war, Afghanistan’s governance system has been weakened. In response, the Government of Afghanistan and UN-HABITAT have contributed to the design of the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) which is initially aimed at strengthening the network of some 30,000 self-governing community institutions.

The NSP is a national priority programme of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA), executed by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and development (MRRD) and funded through multiple sources. As the single largest development programme in the country and reputed to be the second-largest in the world, NSP has an approved budget of US$ 2.7 billion over the period from mid-2003 to September 2016. NSP proposes to cover a total of around 37,000 rural communities in Afghanistan with a first round of block grants and a total of around 12,000 of these with a second round of block grants.

Known in Dari as “Hambastagi Milli” and in Pashtu as “Milli Paiwastoon”, NSP is based on the Afghan traditions of “Ashar” (i.e. community members working together on a volunteer basis to improve community infrastructure) and “Jirga” – councils comprised of respected members of the community. Islamic values of unity, equity and justice are also encouraged.

Read the Analytic Closure Report:

“From the people, for the people, with the people”

Download 3.18 MB 14273 downloads


The State of Afghan Cities Programme (SoAC)

Location: National programme, focusing on 34 Provincial Capitals, including Kabul

Main Partners:  Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG); and Kabul Municipality, 33 Provincial Municipalities. Rapid urbanization is both an opportunity and a challenge for Afghanistan. As cities grow, it is vital that policy makers and city leaders have access to reliable and verifiable information in terms of urban indicators to support decision-making.

Lacking detailed knowledge of the demographic, economic, cultural, physical and environmental dynamics of Afghan cities, and the capacity to collect and use such information, many planners and decision makers are operating in a climate of uncertainty, allocating resources to immediate and pressing issues rather than investing in progressive change over the long term. The costs of this widespread information and capacity deficit are both immense and immeasurable, and accrue in, for example, the form of expanding informal settlements, land grabbing, decreasing agricultural land, deepening social problems, rising urban inequality, and greater insecurity.

The problem persists because the international community has, for the last decade, focused largely on implementing short-term security-related programmes, mostly in rural areas, through parallel structures rather than building government and civil society institutions and capacities for sustainable, regular monitoring and data collection/use for development. There has been a focus on ‘getting things done’ rather than on ensuring and developing sustainable monitoring mechanisms. The result is that while urban institutions have been built, they lack the capacities and resources for appropriate monitoring of the urban sector, which is required to formulate evidenced-based policies and plans.”


Safety Nets and Pensions Support Project (SNPSP)

Location: Yakawlang District, Bamyan Province

Main Partners: Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD)

Afghanistan is a landlocked, mountainous state situated between central and south Asia with an estimated population of approximately 30 million people and a land area of 653,000 square kilometres. Despite the increased levels of external assistance provided by the donor community in recent years, more than one third of all Afghans still live in poverty, with the nation having one of the world’s lowest average per capita incomes. Afghanistan is ranked 175th among all nations on the UNDP Human Development Index1.

Even if the nature of the crisis in Afghanistan may not have changed drastically in terms of humanitarian needs or levels of violence, the international community is unanimous in describing the current situation as one of transition. This allows for new forms of aid, such as cash transfers, and has stimulated the direct involvement of the government in humanitarian aid coordination and, to some degree, delivery.

There is a common understanding that the use of cash assistance is appropriate in situations of chronic crisis or during transitional phases such as that being experienced by Afghanistan. The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD) is initiating a Social Safety Net project (under the Afghanistan Social Protection Program, known as ASPP) in selected districts of Ghor, Paktya, Bamyan and Kunarha provinces. The purpose of the program, which is a cash assistance intervention, would be to assist eligible poor families with young children to maintain adequate levels of nutrition during the winter season, and to promote human capital development.

The program is using a Poverty Scorecard (based on a Proxy Means Testing Approach) to identify eligible households. The Proxy Means Testing (PMT) method will be used in the selected five districts of four provinces. With this project proposal UN-Habitat is applying for the facilitation of the program in Yakawlang District Bamyan Province in 143 communities with a total of 19,866 families2.

Over the last 10 years the Government of Afghanistan implemented the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) with the goal of building peace and solidarity amongst the people and to empower them to be responsible for local level governance and development. This flagship programme of the Government of Afghanistan has covered all the provinces of the country reaching over 21,000 villages. UN-Habitat has to date played a key role in assisting the government in the design of the programme and was responsible for implementation of the programme in 3,283 villages across nine provinces throughout Afghanistan, including Bamyan Province.

As part of the National Solidarity Programme Community Development Councils (CDCs) were formed for each village through a transparent election process. The CDCs were empowered through a process of experiential learning to plan and undertake their own development work so they could be responsible for local level governance. The NSP has been hailed by development practioners and the World Bank as one of the best community empowerment programmes anywhere implemented on a national scale.

The communities that have benefitted from the NSP, as well as the government, now consider that it is crucial to consolidate the hard-won gains to further the cause of peace-building through addressing some of the particular needs identified by the communities that could not be met by NSP. This includes facilitating access to services and support for the extremely poor and most marginalized members of the communities through the established CDCs.”

Please see the State of Afghan Cities discussion papers below

Afghanistan Urban Future

Afghanistan’s Urban Future 0.00 KB 3920 downloads

Urban Solidarity: Community-led neighbourhood upgrading by people, for people

Urban Solidarity 615.03 KB 3557 downloads

Managing Land, Mobilizing Revenue

Managing Land, Mobilizing Revenue 638.74 KB 3690 downloads

Guiding Urban Growth

Guiding Urban Growth 0.00 KB 4134 downloads

A Home for All Afghans

A Home for All Afghans 614.23 KB 747 downloads

Afghan Cities for Life

Afghan Cities for Life 687.81 KB 5139 downloads

Municipal Governance

Municipal Governance 682.25 KB 4562 downloads
Contact information

Mr. Hiroshi Takabayasi
Knowledge Management Officer
UN-Habitat Afghanistan
+ 93 (0) 795 874 227 

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