Afghanistan Table of Contents
No comprehensive census based upon systematically sound methods has ever been taken in Afghanistan. Most population statistics rely on estimates and samples. Successive governments have manipulated figures for their own political objectives. UN agencies, hundreds of NGOs, as well as bilateral agencies use different figures to suit their purposes in designing assistance programs. Furthermore, instability caused by the Soviet-Afghan war and the subsequent civil war resulted in massive movements of uprooted peoples. These factors also make demographic sampling necessarily imprecise.
The most scientific demographic survey carried out in Afghanistan was also one of the first. Conducted in 1972-74 by the State University of New York (SUNY) for the United States Agency for International Development (AID), in cooperation with the Afghan government, this survey reported a settled population of 10.18 million. It did not cover the entire country, and the nomadic population was not surveyed. The nomads were separately estimated at slightly more than 1 million.
An official census was later hurriedly taken over a three-week period in June 1979 after the establishment of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), with UN assistance. This count estimated the population to be 13.9 million, including 800,000 nomads, but it is little credited since only 56 percent of the population was enumerated due to mounting resistance in the countryside. Grossly inflated figures were added for the rest.
The Statistical Yearbook published in 1983 by the Babrak Karmal government during the Soviet occupation claimed a total population of 15.96 million for 1981-82. Presumably this included over five million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. (see Refugees, this ch.).
Afghanistan's population in 1995 was estimated at 18.4 million by the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit agency based in Washington, D.C. This estimate, like others before it, is based on unreliable data, as the Bureau itself cautions. The Human Development Report, 1996 estimates that the population will rise to 26.7 million in the year 2000, using, however, a high growth rate of 6.1 percent. A rate of around 2.2 percent is more typically employed. UNDP calculations give a 1993 crude birth rate of 5l/1000, a crude death rate of 22/1000, and an infant mortality rate of 163/1000. Estimates of the average life expectancy at birth was 43.7 years. Again, growth figures depend on what is taken into account -- refugees, war dead estimated to range from 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 square kilometer, but it varied widely between provinces: from 489.4 per square kilometer in Kabul to 0.7 in Nimroz, a province in the southwest with vast sandy and stony deserts. Residence was also unevenly distributed between rural and urban settlements, with over 35,000 rural settlements, but only sixty-four urban centers. Probably no more than ten of these centers are true cities, and other towns could be considered. Again, numbers depend on definitions. The United Nations reported that eighty-one percent of the population lived in rural areas in 1993.
What is important is that the gradual rural-urban migration noticeable over a period of several decades increased rapidly during the 1960s as the government laid out new road systems and quickened development. This trend accelerated during the Soviet-Afghan War as internally displaced persons (IDPs) fled the war-torn countryside for the relative safety of the cities. A number of major cities such as Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad, and Mazar-e Sharif absorbed IDPs in great numbers, causing overcrowding and rising demands for city-provided services. By 1985, unconfirmed reports placed Kabul's population at over two million, more than a 100 percent increase in less than a decade. Since the mujahidin took possession of Kabul in 1992, however, the incessant fighting by warring factions for control of the capital has caused the population to swell and diminish according to the level of security at any given moment.
For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Afghanistan.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress