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Urban Livelihoods and Vulnerability

Founder(s): EC; UNAMA; governments of Sweden and Switzerland
Status: Completed

“While it is important to recognise the resilience and resourcefulness of the urban poor, this is not a strategy. Poor people already face many barriers within a dysfunctional institutional environment.”
Between 2003 and 2006, AREU examined the lives and livelihoods of poor people in Afghanistan’s cities, which continue to expand at an unprecedented and often chaotic pace. Research encompassed on-the-ground case studies in Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Pul-i-Kumri.
Across Afghan cities, the swelling ranks of the urban poor lack access to even the most basic services, which city authorities often lack capacity—and the will—to provide. As migration to urban centres increases, outdated land policies continually fail to recognise newly-built informal settlements that are often home to the majority of urban populations. Inhabitants of these areas rely overwhelmingly on informal employment as a source of income. While this may provide a basic source of stability in their lives, it often leaves households highly vulnerable to ill-health, hazardous workplaces and exploitation by employers. Uneven incomes mean many households accumulate considerable debts to meet their daily needs, while a lack of assets and community solidarity leaves many with little hope of improving their situation.
The study’s findings suggest city governments must do more to recognise both the significant contribution poor households make to the local economy, and the physical spaces they occupy. More must be done to improve land registration, foster labour-intensive growth, and recalibrate wider development efforts toward greater inclusion of urban environments.

Publications from this research project:

Target Assistance to Families with the Least Access to Diverse, Better-Paying Jobs

Inadequate access to employment is a major source of vulnerability for the urban poor in Afghanistan and a likely source of political instability for the state. This policy notes examines the level of income that different household members can earn, Read More

Legalise Informal Settlements to Give Poor Families the Right to Demand Basic Services

Conflicts and drought have seen the mushrooming of informal settlements in many Afghan cities over the years. The fall of the Taliban in 2001 only increased the pace of urbanisation, fuelled by refugee return and search for employment. This policy Read More

Develop Policies and Programmes to Help Urban Poor Avoid Debt and Save for the Future

Adequate income is a basic need in Afghanistan, since all daily needs (from food to water to fuel) must be purchased. Raising sufficient income to survive in urban Afghanistan is especially challenging for the poor who lack basic services, skills, Read More

Reduce High Levels of Risk for Poor Families Coping to Make a Living in Afghan Cities

The level of risk that poor households face may determine whether they can build an asset base for sustainable livelihoods or spiral further into poverty. Risks come in many forms – from health and security threats, to cash shortage in Read More

Provide Social Protection Systems to Ease Heavy Reliance on Social Networks and Reduce Vulnerability

Social assets are an important fallback for poor and vulnerable urban families who lack material resources, particularly in developing countries where the state is either unable or unwilling to provide social protection for its citizens. This policy note discusses how Read More

Conference Report: Urban Poverty Reduction in Afghanistan

The conference report of the two-day workshop on Urban Poverty Reduction in Afghanistan, hosted by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit on 9-10 August 2006 at the Safi Landmark Hotel, Kabul.

Urban Livelihoods in Afghanistan

This synthesis report draws out the main findings and recommendations from five case studies on urban poverty in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad and Pul-i-Khumri. The report examines livelihood strategies, assets and crisis management over time in a set of households Read More

Create More Quality Jobs with Regular Pay to Improve Livelihoods and Political Stability

Inadequate access to employment is a major source of vulnerability for the urban poor in Afghanistan and a likely source of political instability for the state. This Policy Note examines the level of income different household members can earn, how Read More

Gaining Some Ground: Urban Livelihoods in Jalalabad

This case study examines urban livelihoods in Jalalabad, and is one of five in a series.

Poverty Amid Prosperity: Urban Livelihoods In Herat

This case study examines urban livelihoods in Herat, and is one of five in a series.