A girl raises her hand during a class held outdoors at Pul-e-Rangeena Government Primary School for Girls in the north-western city of Herat, capital of Herat Province. The school, like many across the country, has been overwhelmed by the large influx of children after years of disrupted learning. More than 9,000 children currently attend classes in three shifts at the school each day in 20 classrooms in a main building, 43 tents, and a new building that was recently constructed by UNICEF.
In May 2009 in Afghanistan, efforts to rebuild the countrys infrastructure and systems (largely destroyed during more than two decades of war) and increased access to basic health services have contributed to a decline in child mortality and increased primary school enrolment, especially for girls. Nevertheless, challenges persist. Drought, food shortages, chronic insecurity and ongoing conflict continue to limit progress for the countrys approximately 27.1 million people. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world and one of only four polio-endemic countries worldwide. An estimated 45 per cent of the population is food insecure or borderline, and 40-55 per cent of children are underweight or stunted. Maternal mortality rates (estimated at 1,600 per 100,000 live births) are among the worlds highest. Only 22 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water and just 30 per cent, to adequate sanitation. UNICEF, working with the Government, other UN agencies and NGO partners, supports health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), education, child protection, and emergency interventions, including in drought-affected, displaced and other vulnerable communities.