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Obaidullah Mahdi

Housing in fast-growing cities : recent tendencies and potential solutions in Kabul, Afghanistan

par Muriel - 10 octobre 2017

Thèse débutée en 2017

Direction : José Serrano

Afghanistan is still a predominately rural society with only an estimated 24% of the population living in cities. However, the ongoing urbanization is progressing at a very high growth rate, estimated at 4.6% annually which puts it in 11th rank worldwide level. For instance in 1950, only 1 out of every 20 Afghans lived in cities. In 2014, 1 out of every four Afghans lived in cities, and by 2060 1 out of every 2 - 50% of the population will live in cities. Within the next 35 years the country’s urban population is projected to triple to 24 million by 2050. It is estimated that although the natural population growth rate will slowly decline over the next 35 years, Afghanistan’s urban population is expected to grow at an average of 3.14% up to 2050 - still among the fastest rates in the world. In absolute terms this equates to at least 320,000 additional urban dwellers every year.

Afghanistan’s projected urban population in the regional context, reaffirms that Afghanistan, in keeping with neighboring countries, will continue to urbanize over the coming decades.

In 2014, Afghanistan had the lowest urban population of all countries in the Central and South Asia region (24.5%), slightly below that of Tajikistan (26.7%). Afghanistan is far behind the average for global regions, yet has followed - and will continue to follow - a similar trend towards a more urban society.

Rapid urbanization is both an opportunity and a challenge for Afghanistan. As cities grow, it is vital that policy makers and city leaders have access to timely and reliable data to support evidenced-based decision making.

Afghanistan’s future is urban. The population of Afghan cities is expected to double within the next 15 years and by 2060, one in every two Afghans will be living in cities. In order to manage such a transition and harness it for economic and social development accurate data and information is essential.

Urban growth over the last decade has been fueled by returnees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and rural-urban economic migrants whom have migrated to cities in search of improved services ; better safety and security ; and livelihood and employment opportunities. Since 2002, over 5.8 million refugee returnees have returned to Afghanistan with roughly half settling in urban areas.

Cities continue to attract thousands of young Afghans every year. This is particularly true for those aged between 15 and 24, who constitute nearly a quarter of the urban population (23.6%), notably higher than in rural areas (17.8%). The youth-bulge in Afghanistan’s cities is a result of in-migration of students and young adults looking for educational opportunities and jobs in the urban labor market.

Housing need

2002-2008 was a critical era of returnees for the Afghan government ; the government was left with no other choice during the critical period other than the emergency planning to provide land and suitable housing alternatives. The rapid growth of cities was unplanned, resulting in haphazard construction of informal settlements, which are proliferating in the peripheries of major cities. Today the situation has changed, and an update is needed for other future returnees and urban residents.

The SoAC (State of Afghan Cities program) analysis found that the total housing stock in Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals is 962,467 dwelling units. The vast majority of the housing stock is irregular, detached or semi-detached dwellings (524,074 units), followed by regular detached dwellings (315,556 units) ; and hillside dwellings (71,788). Kabul is the only city where apartments form a significant share of the housing stock with 7.8% of the total dwelling units (including 2% mixed-use apartments with commercial uses on ground floors). It must be noted, that almost 70 percent of development in Kabul and major cities is considered informal development with limited or no access to basic urban services.

Demand for urban housing in Afghanistan is high due to the country’s rapid urbanization and high population growth. The government and the private sector have been unable to develop affordable low- income housing at sufficient scale and pace to meet the growing demand. According to a survey of the five major cities under SoAC, 94% of low-income residents need new or improved housing.

Assuming a 4% annual urban population growth for the coming five years (2015-2019) and 3.5% for the 2020-2025, the demand for new housing is around 41,704 units per year expanding to 43,956 units for the period 2020-2025. These huge numbers don’t include the current backlog of housing and the need to improve current dwellings. Based on the information mentioned above, Afghanistan needs more housing units in the coming years. Also the potential of rapid urbanization can accelerate the process. In this situation, the government of Afghanistan should be prepared in the terms of housing and urban development for the coming years. Young professionals trained in housing and urban development, urban management and finance will help the government to work on the projects and make plans for future.

Other counties in the region (like Iran and India and etc.) have good experiences in terms of Affordable housing and Mortgage. For example Mehr Housing in Iran was a large national project of housing which provided 4.4 million housing unites in the rural and urban areas for people in 10 years (2004-2014). Mehr Housing was a governmental project for low-income people and by the time the price of housing was raising rapidly. The situation was almost the same as Afghanistan’s current housing market. Of course this project needs more studies and analysis and the conditions in each country is different to an other, but however a good experience and achievement is valuable for learning as a tested model. This short analysis of rapid urbanization and huge demand for affordable housing led me to focus my future career in housing particularly on urban affordable housing. If I get an opportunity to complete my PhD work on this important issue, I’m sure to bring more advance knowledge and experience from France as a developed country to my home country.

Some questions that I would like to explore during my PhD studies are :

  • Why are efficient land and housing policies important for urban development, management and transformation ?
  • What are the reasons for land and housing market failure in Afghanistan ? What are the challenges and constraints to efficient and functioning housing market ?
  • What are the key elements of a housing policy and effective strategies to implement a housing policy ? Undertake review of good models and best practices in the region such as : Iran, Indonesia, India, Singapore and etc.
  • What are the types of instruments for housing finance to develop and incentivize affordable housing, particularly through private sector participation ?
  • What are the different types of housing tenure to ensure tenure security and access to urban poor, refugees and IDPs, homeless ?
  • What are the dynamics and inter-relationships between informal and formal sector in providing housing ?
  • How can housing policies build social cohesion and unify city residents ?

My objective upon completion of my PhD studies in France and return to Afghanistan is to associate my work with the government or an international development organization working on affordable housing. I will be well placed to undertake a position relevant to my qualifications and continue to work with the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs. I am also keen on taking up a part-time research and teaching position at one of the universities in my home country where I could impart to others the knowledge and experience, and contribute to strengthening research and innovation in the field of Housing and Urban Planning.


1 - UN Habitat, (2015) State of Afghan cities

2 - Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), (2015) Draft National Housing Policy

3 - MUDA, (2015) Country report for Habitat III

4 - Nemat, Abdulkhaliq, (2014) Special issue for the occasion of 7th world urban forum in Columbia (Medellin)

5 - Mahdi, Obaidullah, (2015) Water management in a fast growing Mega City Kabul, Afghanistan