Twenty three years of civil war in Afghanistan created large numbers of refugees and IDPs - many of whom have returned home over the last six years following the fall of the Taliban in 2001. For many, their search for employment, adequate and affordable housing, access to basic services, reclamation of property, and reintegration into communities has been fraught with difficulty. At the same time, return is made difficult or in some cases impossible as peace and security remains illusive in some parts of the country. As the country struggles along the long road of reconstruction, the durability of the return is dependent on the establishment of the state - its institutions and the establishment of the rule of law - and its ability to create opportunities within an environment of security which enables its citizens to thrive rather than simply survive. Throughout, significant challenges lie ahead as Afghanistan's development indicators continue to be poor. An estimated 20-40 per cent of rural Afghans are malnourished, and roughly 70 per cent of the population live on less than USD 2 a day. Over two-thirds of Afghans over the age of 15 cannot read and write; and one in five children die before they reach their fifth birthday.
In rural areas, lack of modernisation of the agricultural sector limits the productive capacity of farms - many of which can no longer support growing families or returnees. At the same time, Afghanistan has experienced unparalleled growth of the urban population in the last five years - due in part to the organised return of refugees (roughly one million) - as well as spontaneous migration to urban areas. Many of the urban settlements to which refugees have returned are 'informal' or lacking in basic services. Ongoing difficulty in resolving land disputes is proving to be a major hindrance to reconstruction and investment. Within this context, households must build sustainable livelihoods to ensure a successful return and reintegration.
The Government of Afghanistan and the international community have had to address, from 2002 onward, critical problems of security, demobilisation of combatants, facilitating the return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs, and the establishment of state infrastructure against the backdrop of serious deprivation and social vulnerability. Measures to ensure the viability of return have been undertaken on a number of fronts which target the general population but also aim to reintegrate returnees and IDPs. At the community level, reintegration of refugees and IDPs into the social and economic fabric is being addressed through targeted assistance which addresses severe deficits with regards to access to infrastructure and services in selected vulnerable communities with high levels of returnees and IDPs in a way that builds community cohesion and reduces social exclusion.