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LONDON - The Taliban sweeping to power in Afghanistan has thrust one of the world's poorest countries back into the limelight.

The following charts depict Afghanistan's current economic situation:


Years of violence, instability and corruption have crippled Afghanistan's economy, making it difficult for businesses to flourish and keeping much of the population impoverished.

After shrinking by 2% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gross domestic product (GDP) was on course to bounce back and grow by 2.7% this year as mobility and trade began to resume, the IMF estimated in June. That was in line with the rough 2.5% average growth rate in recent years, but far below high-single digit levels scaled in the decade after the 2001 U.S. invasion.

The latest upheaval makes economic prospects precarious.

Fitch on Friday predicted a sharp contraction of GDP, possibly of as much as 20%.

Critically, the future flow of remittances and international aid Afghanistan relies upon may now be more uncertain. Remittances reached $789 million in 2020, around 4% of GDP, the World Bank estimated.

About two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line, on less than $1.90 per day, according to the Asian Development Bank. That's up from 55% in 2017.

Graphic: No convergence:


Agriculture is the main source of income for the majority of Afghans and the country's main export.

According to the World Trade Organization, Afghanistan exported $783 million of goods in 2020, a near-10% drop on 2019. Dried fruits, nuts and medicinal herbs make up the bulk of exports, mainly to India and Pakistan. But large imports of oil, food and machinery mean Afghanistan has a big trade deficit.

Afghanistan also dominates the global opium and heroin business, which provided the sole income for many poor farmers also a boon for the Taliban who extort taxes, trafficking fees and engage in cultivation and production.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that more 80% of global opium and heroin supplies originate in Afghanistan. At its 2017 peak, opium production accounted for 7% of Afghan GDP.

The country also sits on an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits such as iron, copper, gold and lithium, a rare earth metal essential for electric vehicle battery production, according to a 2010 Pentagon study. The nation had the potential to become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," a Pentagon memo said.

Mining prospects may attract major powers like China to secure resources for its green economy push, but difficult access and lack of roads complicate extraction.


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