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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 As migration to urban centres increases, outdated land policies continually fail to recognise newly-built informal settlements that are often home to the majority of urban populations.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:

Dwindling Industry, Growing Poverty: Urban Livelihoods in Pul-i-Khumri

This case study examines urban livelihoods in Pul-i-Khumri, and is one of five in a series.

Poor, Poorer, Poorest: Urban Livelihoods and Vulnerability in Mazar-i-Sharif

This case study examines urban livelihoods in Mazar-i-Sharif, and is one of five in a series.

Emerging Trends in Urban Livelihoods

AREU’s  research into the livelihoods of the urban poor in three cities (Herat, Kabul and Jalalabad) aimed to fill the substantial knowledge gap around urban poverty in Afghanistan. This working paper summarised three key issues that  emerged early in the Read More

Shaping Urban Futures: Challenges to Governing and Managing Afghan Cities

Against a background discussion of widespread urban vulnerability in Afghanistan, this paper explores the critical challenges for urban governance and urban management. The analysis draws on research conducted in three Afghan cities—Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif—as well as on interviews with Read More

Urban Vulnerability in Afghanistan: Case Studies from Three Cities

This working paper offers an initial examination of the “asset vulnerability” of the urban poor in Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat. Focus group discussions with residents in these cities revealed four intertwined risks common to all social groups: loss of income Read More

Some Notes on the Livelihoods of the Urban Poor in Kabul, Afghanistan

This paper summarises some of the basic features of Afghan urban poor livelihoods gathered from interviews with returned refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and long-term residents living in Karte Nau (District 8) in Kabul. The fieldwork was based on a Read More