Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan
The country of Afghanistan has a long and complicated history of domination by foreign powers and conflict between factions within the country.
While Afghanistan is well covered in headlines and news stories, the lion’s share of this coverage is directly related to conflict. As a result, Afghanistan is viewed by many in Western countries as a war-torn desert, with conflict, ideology, and geopolitical power obscuring more practical information about the country and its people.
In the Afghanistan map graphic above, we step back and examine Afghanistan from a structural point of view. How does its unique landscape influence population patterns? How does this geography influence the economy and relationships with neighboring nations? Let’s dive in.
Mountain High, Valley Low
Afghanistan’s rugged landscape is defined by towering snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys, and expansive deserts.
First, the country has a wide variety of climate extremes. There is more than 100ºC (180ºF) separating the record high and low temperatures.
The extremes don’t stop at temperature though. Afghanistan has the sixth-highest elevation span in the world, with 7,234m (23,734 ft) between its highest and lowest point. Afghanistan is one of 44 landlocked nations in the world, which helps explain why its lowest point is so much higher than sea level.
For those living in North America, the country’s terrain has been compared to Colorado, with Kabul sharing similarities with Denver.
Where Do People Live in Afghanistan?
Settlement patterns in Afghanistan are similar to other countries in the region; people cluster where there is access to fresh water.
As the cartogram below demonstrates, a large portion of the country’s population is located around Kabul, and the region adjacent to the Kabul River.
The southwestern province of Nimruz is the most sparsely populated area in the country. The Wakhan Corridor—which connects Afghanistan to China—is also very sparsely populated, with about 14,000 total residents.
Key Facts About Afghanistan’s Demographics
Afghanistan has a very youthful population. The country’s median age of 19 years is one of the youngest in the world, and is low compared to its neighbors Pakistan (24) and Iran (30).
Islam is the official state religion of Afghanistan. 99.7% of the Afghan population are Muslim, one of the highest proportions of the 49 Muslim-majority countries.
So far in 2021, the OCHA estimates that 550,000 people in Afghanistan are “internally displaced” due to conflict, and this number may rise still as new data tracks the final days of the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The majority of those displaced persons are children.
Paving the Way
The Ring Road connecting Afghanistan’s major cities began in the 1960s but was soon cut short by war. After the U.S. took control in 2001, new road construction began in earnest.
Between 2002 and 2016, USAID and the Department of Defense (DoD) spent approximately $2.8 billion building and maintaining Afghanistan’s road infrastructure. This number doesn’t include additional investment from other sources that poured in to improve the country’s road network.
The result is a more comprehensive road network, but one that is difficult to maintain. A 2016 report found collapsed bridges and sections of road around the country that were washed out.
Resources and Relationships
Afghanistan is a critical source of fresh water for the arid region. Several major regional rivers flow from the country’s mountainous eastern provinces into neighboring countries, so any new irrigation schemes and dam infrastructure will come with a geopolitical price tag as well.
Already in the recent past, tensions have increased with Iran and Pakistan over the flow of water crossing the border.
Outside countries are also very interested in Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources. Decades of near-continuous conflict have made mining a tough proposition in the country, but with growing demand for resources such as lithium and rare earths, that may soon change.
Afghanistan is estimated to have over $1 trillion of untapped mineral reserves, and outside interests are taking notice.
China said it was ready for “friendly and cooperative relations” with the new Taliban regime, and it’s possible that investment from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may step in to fill the vacuum left by departing Western powers.
Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity
Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.
Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity
Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.
Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.
After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.
The Fight to Feed the World
The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.
On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.
The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.
But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.
|Country||% Population Affected by Hunger||Population (millions)||Region|
|Burkina Faso 🇧🇫||61%||19.8||Africa|
|South Sudan 🇸🇸||60%||11.0||Africa|
|Sierra Leone 🇸🇱||55%||8.2||Africa|
|Syria 🇸🇾||55%||18.0||Middle East|
|Yemen 🇾🇪||44%||30.0||Middle East|
Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.
Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.
According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.
All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Solving Global Hunger
While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.
Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.
But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.
Mapped: Where are the World’s Ongoing Conflicts Today?
In 2021, we live in a time of relative peace, however, as this map reveals, that does not mean there are no conflicts in the world today.
Where are the World’s Ongoing Conflicts Today?
We live in an era of relative peace compared to most of history, however, this does not mean that there are no conflicts in the world today.
This map using data from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) reveals where the world’s 27 ongoing conflicts are today, and what type of conflicts they are.
Note: conflicts are categorized by definitions laid out by the CFR.
Detailing the Conflicts
Many people alive today have never lived through a war on their country’s soil, especially those in the West. But conflict, wars, and violence are by no means things of the past.
According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), as of Q2’2021 alone:
- Violence against civilians resulted in over 5,000 deaths worldwide
- Battle related deaths numbered over 18,000
- Explosion/remote violence led to more than 4,000 deaths
- Riots resulted in over 600 fatalities
Most of the world’s conflicts are concentrated in Asia and Africa and the most common forms are territorial disputes and civil wars. While terrorism often strikes fear in people, only three of the world’s ongoing conflicts are linked to terrorism, according to the CFR.
|Conflict Name||Type||Countries Involved|
|Civil War in South Sudan||Civil War||🇸🇸 South Sudan|
|War in Yemen||Civil War||🇾🇪 Yemen|
|Civil War in Libya||Civil War||🇱🇾 Libya|
|War in Afghanistan||Civil War||🇦🇫 Afghanistan|
|Civil War in Syria||Civil War||🇸🇾 Syria|
|Instability in Iraq||Civil War||🇮🇶 Iraq|
|Criminal Violence in Mexico||Criminal||🇲🇽 Mexico|
|Confrontation of U.S. & Iran||Interstates||🇺🇸 United States
|Conflict of India & Pakistan||Interstates||🇮🇳 India
|North Korea Crisis||Interstates||🇺🇸 United States
🇰🇵 North Korea
|Violence in the DRC||Political Instability||🇨🇩 DRC|
|Instability in Egypt||Political Instability||🇪🇬 Egypt|
|Political Instability in Lebanon||Political Instability||🇱🇧 Lebanon|
|Instability in Venezuela||Political Instability||🇻🇪 Venezuela|
|Tigray War in Ethiopia||Political Instability||🇪🇹 Ethiopia|
|Boko Haram in Nigeria||Sectarian||🇳🇬 Nigeria|
|Violence in Central African Republic||Sectarian||🇨🇫 Central African Republic|
|Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar||Sectarian||🇲🇲 Myanmar|
|Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict||Territorial Disputes||🇦🇲 Armenia
|Conflict in Ukraine||Territorial Disputes||🇺🇦 Ukraine
|Israeli-Palestine Conflict||Territorial Disputes||🇮🇱 Israel
|Turkey & Armed Kurdish Groups||Territorial Disputes||🇹🇷 Turkey|
|South China Sea Disputes||Territorial Disputes||🇨🇳 China
|Tensions in East China Sea||Territorial Disputes||🇨🇳 China
|Destabilization in Mali||Terrorism||🇲🇱 Mali|
|Al-Shabab in Somalia||Terrorism||🇸🇴 Somalia|
|Islamist Militancy in Pakistan||Terrorism||🇵🇰 Pakistan|
As an example of a more typical conflict, Myanmar’s civil unrest began in February 2020 when the military overthrew the democratically elected government and arrested the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The civilian population has been protesting heavily but to no avail. According to a BBC report, more than 860 people have been killed and around 5,000 have been detained.
This is just one of the many examples of persistent violence today including recent events like Mexico’s midterm election violence, Ethiopia’s fighting in the country’s Tigray region, and the fighting between Israel and Palestine over the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.
Finally, though the United States military has now withdrawn from Afghanistan, and the Taliban has taken control of the country, the outlook for the country remains uncertain.
War and Peace
While there are conflicts today, deaths from violence and wars have and wars have decreased over time. For example, battle death rates in state-based conflicts have reduced significantly in a period from 1946 to 2016.
However, according to the UN, although battle related deaths have been decreasing, the number of conflicts occurring in the last few years has actually been on the rise (they have simply remained less deadly). Most conflicts have been waged by non-state actors, like organized criminal groups and political militias.
The UN found that the most common causes of conflict today are:
- Regional tensions
- Breakdowns in the rule of law
- Co-opted or absent state institutions
- Illicit economic gain
- Scarcity of resources exacerbated by climate change
Traditional war between countries and war-related deaths may be becoming a thing of the past, but the threat of violence is still very real. Many countries know this as they continue to build up armies and spend significant amounts on military and defense.
The Future of Warfare
War and conflict are still extremely relevant in the 21st century and impact millions of people. However, traditional warfare may be changing its shape and may become less deadly as a result.
For instance, issues like climate change will create further exacerbations on conflicts, and new forms of technological and cyber warfare could threaten countries’ elections and manipulate populations.
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