Exclusive for the Daily Outlook Afghanistan
On June 27, 2012 the Central Statistics Organization (CSO), the Afghan Government's national statistics agency, released the results of the Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, or the AMICS, which our organization has spent the last three years working on, in collaboration with UNICEF.
MICS surveys provide up-to-date information on the situation of children and women in different countries throughout the world, measuring key indicators to monitor progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Afghanistan MICS also helps measure progress on the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Data was collected in 2010-11, and included more than 13,000 households, more than 22,000 women, and nearly 15,000 children under age five.
The process of undertaking a survey of this magnitude is demanding. Many hundreds of people were involved, and the CSO deployed data collection teams in every single province of this country, from the safest to the least secure. For that, we are really proud, and we can confidently say that we have a snapshot of the national situation as a result. So what does that snapshot tell us?
It tells us that there has been some gradual progress in the last decade in many indicators for the situation of women and children. While it remains a notoriously difficult indicator to get an accurate grasp of, we believe that we see a significant decrease in child mortality. We see a greater number of women delivering babies in health facilities and receiving at least some antenatal care during pregnancy. We see over half (55%) of primary school age children attending primary school. And we see many Afghans reporting improved access to safe drinking water, and to better sanitation.
But what we also see is that the improvements have not been even. The survey found great regional disparities and significantly lower progress in reaching populations in rural areas. These are failings that must be addressed as we move forward in considering how to account for the AMICS findings in planning future development efforts.
We must do a better job reaching every region of the country in an equitable way, and finding ways to dismantle the barriers to reaching vulnerable populations. How the most vulnerable among us fare is a measure of the state of our society, and of our prospects for sustainable socio-economic development. The AMICS gives us the information we need to see where the greatest needs are among the most poor, uneducated and isolated of this country.
The findings also tell us about the critical importance of education, and how the education of a mother can make all the difference to her life and to her children's lives. The pattern is obvious as you read through the survey's results: when mothers are well educated, they and their children perform highest in nearly every single indicator. Educated women are more likely to give birth with a skilled attendant present, to register the births of their children, and to marry later and give birth later, when they are physically and emotionally ready, giving them and their children a better chance of survival.
Educated women are more likely to have children attending school, to have children who are vaccinated, who are protected from communicable diseases, who are well nourished, and who survive infancy and then childhood. Their children are less likely to be involved in child labor, to be abused and they tend to have more books in their home. Their access to water and adequate sanitation facilities is better, and they tend to be wealthier.
All of this means that when children are healthy, educated, and well provided for, they can grow up to be productive, contributing, economically and socially active members of society. They end up having children who do the same, breaking cycles of poverty and mortality, and helping our country to thrive.
So we can clearly see that beyond the moral imperative to create the opportunity for education for all of our people, there is a compelling economic and development argument for education, as our findings strongly suggest that education quite literally saves lives.
Therefore, in indicators where progress has been sluggish, like in women's literacy, in girls' secondary school attendance, and in the high levels of early childbearing among women, which often claims their lives, we have much work to do.
We also have much to do to help ensure that children live long enough to get the chance to go to school and start the important work of learning. Vaccination coverage is particularly uneven, differing markedly across the different regions of the country, and too few children complete their entire recommended vaccination schedule.
There is a high prevalence of anemia among children, poor practice in many households in safely treating drinking water, low iodized salt consumption (only 20%), and far too many children who are underweight, stunted, and wasted due to poor nutrition. All of these factors can make the difference in whether a child is healthy or sick, and even whether a child lives or dies, and should thus be treated with a response that reflects this gravity.
The AMICS is important because it provides new information on the situation of women and children in Afghanistan, filling critical data gaps. The experience of the AMICS survey has also helped us at the CSO to further develop our data collection processes so that each time we take on a survey of this magnitude, our craft is further refined and the output of that much higher quality.
Our capacity to produce sound data of relevance to the development objectives identified in national policies like the Afghanistan National Development Strategy and in commitments to global objectives like the Millennium Development Goals is an essential component of development planning for the country.
The AMICS 2010/11 reveals much about where we are at, and where we have yet to go. But ultimately the value of data is manifested in how they are used. What the results tell us is that we have a long road ahead, but taking the journey down that road will be worth it. We must be united in our commitment to saving the lives of children and mothers, and doing our best to raise the wellbeing, health and happiness of our people.