Leveraging Urbanization in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Highlights from the World Bank Report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability


Although they have made progress, South Asian countries have struggled to make the most of the opportunity urbanization provides them to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations in both prosperity and livability, according to a new World Bank report – Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.

Difficulty in dealing with the pressures that urban populations put on infrastructure, basic services, land, housing and the environment lie at the heart of the relative lack of livability of the region’s cities. That fosters what the report calls “messy and hidden” urbanization that constrains the concentration of economic activity that could bring about faster improvements in prosperity.

Here are 10 key findings for Afghanistan made in the report:

  • Afghanistan’s urban population grew by almost 4.5 percent a year between 2000 and 2010.  Within the region, only Bhutan and Maldives experienced faster growth rates of urban population.
  • Much of Afghanistan’s urban population growth has been attributable to natural growth rather than rural-urban migration.  As a consequence, the share of the population living in officially classified urban settlements has been growing at a much slower pace of just over 1.2 percent a year between 2000 and 2010.
  • As of mid-2014, there were, according to UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates, 683,000 people internally displaced by conflict in Afghanistan, more than half of which were living in urban areas.
  • In 2010, 27.6 percent of Afghanistan’s urban population lived below the national poverty line, while, in 2005, almost 89 percent of the urban population lived in slums. 
  • An analysis of nighttime lights data shows that Afghanistan experienced growth in urban area of almost 14 percent a year between 1999 and 2010, the fastest in the South Asia region.  Urban area grew at more than three times the speed of urban population, suggesting an increasing prevalence of lower-density sprawl.  The existence of sprawl, poverty and slums reflects messy urbanization.
  • According to the Agglomeration Index, an alternative measure of urban concentration, the share of Afghanistan’s population living in areas with urban characteristics in 2010 was 29.4 percent.  This compares to an urban share of the population based on official definitions of urban areas of 23.2 percent, suggesting the existence of at least some hidden urbanization. 
  • In Afghanistan, as in Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan, the shift out of agriculture has been associated with a large decline in the proportion of GDP derived from manufacturing. This implies that urbanization in Afghanistan since 2000 has been led by services rather than by manufacturing -- something of a departure from expected trends based on the historical experiences of today’s developed nations.
  • Afghanistan’s expanding urban population presents it with a considerable affordable housing challenge.  In the best case scenario in which urban population density remains constant, meeting this challenge will require expanding the amount of developable urban land by 6,959 km2 – or just over 350 percent – between 2010 and 2050.
  • Analysis of World Health Organization outdoor air pollution in cities data reveals that, from a global sample of 381 developing-country cities, 19 of the 20 with the highest annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 are in South Asia. Kabul has the most polluted air amongst Afghan cities in the sample, with an annual mean concentration of 86 mg/m3, which is higher than the recorded annual mean concentration for Beijing.
  • Afghanistan completed its last census in 1979, and that was a partial count.  A lack of data hampers rigorous descriptive analysis of urbanization and related economic trends for the country.

For more information on the report go to:

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