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02 January 2010


Afghanistan: what has been 

achieved since 2001?

Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 more than 
200 UK soldiers have been killed in action, 100 of those deaths this year alone.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Currently the UK has 9,000 troops deployed in the region and in the last eight years has spent more than £740m in development aid, with an additional £510m promised over the next four years.
But have efforts to improve security and rebuild the country led to any improvements in daily life for Afghan citizens? Here is a snapshot of how some areas have changed.


54% say they are more prosperous in 2009 than in 2001

Afghanistan remains one of the world's poorest nations, but more Afghanis believe they are better off now than they were in 2001. The UK has donated £40.5m for loans to individuals to set up small businesses as part of a bigger project that has seen more than 440,000 people take up loans.


Population with no electricity

Afghan women draw water from a well

The UK has donated £32m towards local projects to improve water supply, roads, health and education but infrastructure is still a major problem. A third of the country has no access to a regular electricity supply, but that has improved from 42% three years ago. The UK has also spent £30m in Helmand building 59km of roads and more than 1,850 wells. There are plans to build a road from Lashkar Gah to Gereshk and refurbish the Gereshk power plant.


Bar chart shows hectares of opium cultivation

After rising for many years following the fall of the Taliban, opium production has begun to show a decline from its peak in 2007. According to EU figures however, 10% of households are still involved in growing the crop. Most opium is grown in the seven areas where security is worst.


Immunisation graph

Infant mortality has barely changed since the war began, but child immunisation programmes are saving the lives of about 35,000 children a year. In Helmand, where most UK troops are based, a new district hospital and 45 clinics have been built.



The adult literacy rate in Afghanistan is one of the worst in the world - but the youth literacy rate is showing signs of improvement. New schools have been built: in Helmand there are now 93 schools, up from 34 in 2006. Latest figures¹ show 52% of children enrolled in primary school in 2009, up from 37% in 2005.

Children enrolled in primary school

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to vote or work and girls were not allowed to attend school. Rates of literacy and female education are now rising. Enrolled pupil numbers have grown from 1m in 2002 to around 6.6m in 2009 and about a third of those are girls.


pie chart shows answers to question - do you feel security is a erason for optimism?

Security is still one of the country's biggest problems but 44% of the population still feel improved security is "a reason for optimism". In spite of reports of vote-rigging in this year's election, confidence in the government remains high¹ but the government's ability to deal with the insecurity problem remains one of people's key concerns.

Sources: (1)Asia Foundation 2009 (2)UNOCD (3)Unicef (4)CIA World Factbook (5)World Bank

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22 December 2009

18 December 2009

12 April 2009

Be Patient and wait before buying a house.....

Housebuyers may have to wait a year for better market conditions, say economists

David Budworth

Homeowners hoping for a revival in the housing market could have to wait at least another year, economists have warned, as rising unemployment, a squeeze on household finances and problems in the mortgage market continue to exert pressure on prices.
Economists have cautioned that it is too early to say that the market, which has already fallen about 20 per cent, has turned a corner. Most are sticking to forecasts of a 25 to 35 per cent drop in prices from top to bottom. They think monthly mortgage approvals must double to 70,000-80,000 before prices can stabilise or start to rise.
A barrier to that scenario is the continued shortage of good mortgage deals, especially for first-time buyers. At present, homebuyers with a deposit of less than 40 per cent are excluded from the most competitive deals, while good loans for those with a deposit of 10 per cent or less have all but vanished in recent months.
Easter traditionally marks the peak time for house sales and before this year's holiday there have been tentative signs that the property market is awakening. Nationwide Building Society said house prices rose 0.9 per cent last month, the first increase since 2007. A separate, closely watched survey from the Bank of England showed mortgage approvals jumped 20 per cent in February to 37,937, the highest level since May 2008.

Related Links
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Adding to the more positive mood, the Halifax index for the first quarter of this year showed the smallest quarter-on-quarter fall in prices since the first quarter of last year. Meanwhile the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said that interest from potential buyers rose for the fourth month in a row during February.
But Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, thinks house prices will not bottom out until mid-2010, by which point they will be 15 per cent lower, at mid-2003 levels.
He said: “Housing market activity is still very low by long-term norms and any pick up in activity over the coming months is likely to be gradual and fitful. Soaring unemployment, muted wage growth and unwillingness of many people to commit to buying a house when they are fearful are likely to continue to weigh the market down.”
Jeremy Leaf, of RICS, said: “Potential buyers continue to come through estate agency doors but without mortgage finance, transaction levels are likely to remain close to all time lows. Worryingly, the lengthy process of obtaining a mortgage, even for those with big deposits, is contributing towards the blockage in the market.”
That could begin to change after HSBC unveiled a 4.99 per cent deal for borrowers with a 10 per cent deposit. A survey from the Bank of England showed that banks and building societies expected to lend more to homebuyers over the next three months. However, this has yet to be seen.
There is evidence that cash buyers have started dipping their toes back in the market. This perhaps explains why new buyer enquiries have been strongest in London and the South East, areas popular with the sort of wealthy buyer with money to spend. Cash sales now account for 40 per cent of transactions as some older, richer buyers turn to property as a more lucrative alternative to low-paying deposit accounts.
However, the critical state of the economy, which is expected to remain in recession until next year, means that even buyers who are convinced that property is cheap are treading warily. Unemployment recently hit 2 million, and some analysts think it could climb to 3.3 million next year, the highest level since official records began in the 1970s.
Household budgets also remained under pressure as food prices have continued to rise. Even though housing affordability is improving it it still not back to the levels at the bottom of the last downturn.
Roger Bootle of Capital Economics said: “There is little evidence that the rise in buyer interest is feeding into sales activity. House prices will fall further.”

Green Shoots ~ not even a Glimmer!

April 10, 2009
Don't be fooled by 'green shoots' in housing market
There is still some way to go before house prices stabilise and we are a very long way from a recovery
Andrew Ellson

Facts, Mark Twain once observed, are stubborn things. But statistics, he noted, are more pliable. It is with this caution that we should observe the latest data on the housing market.
Last week Nationwide reported that house prices rose by 0.9 per cent in March. The Bank of England, meanwhile, said that mortgage approvals jumped 19 per cent in February. Some commentators, including the Centre for Economics and Business Research, interpreted these statistics as evidence that the housing market is near the bottom. The same commentators even put a positive spin on separate figures from the Halifax showing that prices actually fell 1.9 per cent on the month - an annualised rate of 25 per cent - by arguing that at least the pace of decline was slowing.
The truth, sadly, is that we still have some way to go before house prices stabilise and we are a very long way from a recovery.
Apart from the folly of looking at a single month's statistics in isolation, it should be noted that the Nationwide and Halifax measures are no longer as reliable because the volume of home sales has fallen so much. Neither lender will reveal exactly how many customers their figures are based on, but the Land Registry reports that property transactions are down about 60 per cent on their long-term average, suggesting that the sample size of both surveys has reduced significantly. As any statistician will tell, you, the lower the sample size, the greater the chance of error.

Related Links
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Given that the customer base of each lender is also geographically skewed - with the Halifax traditionally lending more in the North and Nationwide in the South - the figures are far from a reliable indicator of what is happening in any one town. Perhaps a better reflection of the state of the housing market are the figures from Hometrack that show that vendors are receiving an average of only 88 per cent of asking prices and that it takes a record three months to sell a home.
Nor should anyone be fooled into thinking that a recovery is imminent because of what appears to be a large increase in lending. The total number of mortgage approvals may have risen by 19 per cent in February, to 37,937, but this was from a low of 31,791 and is still 44 per cent down on a year ago and 67 per cent down on the year before that. Lending still needs to increase substantially before there is a positive impact on house prices, and that is before rising unemployment is taken into account.
That is not to say that there are no positive signs. As we report on page 74, a number of banks, including HSBC, Abbey and RBS, have slowly started loosening their lending criteria by reducing the size of deposits needed to qualify for loans. Though these developments reflect lenders' growing confidence in the housing market, they should be viewed in perspective. With the notable exception of the HSBC deal, the rates remain prohibitively high and first-time buyers would still need to raise an average deposit of more than £15,000. Even the HSBC deal has a series of tough conditions attached that make the loan more attractive to higher earners. The bank knows that these borrowers are better placed to cope if house prices fall farther, so the deal is hardly a huge vote of confidence in the housing market.
Buyers must still beware.
Pension savers can ill-afford another blow
Would you accept a cut in your employer's pension contributions to save your job? The answer, most likely, is yes. Sadly, increasing numbers of workers could soon face such a demand as companies try to cut costs as the recession bites.
Employees of Aon, the insurer, became the first to suffer this fate when the company cut contributions by half this week. The move was doubly significant because Aon is the UK's leading pensions consultant, advising other big companies.
But as lower employer contributions are equivalent to a pay cut, nobody should accept this lightly. Reducing pension benefits ought to be a last resort, taken only to save a business from going bust. Employees who find that cuts are unavoidable would be wise to try to make up the shortfall by increasing personal contributions, not least because stock markets are now exteremely low by historic standards.
There is little that the Government can do to stop companies from such action. However, with saving for retirement facing this new assault, now would be entirely the wrong time to cut tax relief on pension contributions, as some believe may happen in the Budget. Pension saving needs more support, not less.

10 March 2009

Take it Seriously!!!!!!!!!

Taking a Depression Seriously

Published: March 9, 2009

The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.

David Brooks

The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.
If the Republicans wanted to do the country some good, they’d embrace an entirely different approach.
First, they’d take the current economic crisis more seriously than the Democrats. The Obama budget projects that the recession will be mild this year and the economy will come surging back in 2010. Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things. Democrats are counting on a quick recovery to help pay for these long-term projects.
Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It’s a bloomin’ emergency. Robert Barro of Harvard estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a depression. Warren Buffett says economic activity “has fallen off a cliff” and is not coming back soon.
Stock market declines are destroying $23 trillion in wealth, according to Lawrence Lindsey. Auto production is down by two-thirds since 2005. In China, 20 million migrant laborers have lost their jobs. Investment in developing countries has dropped from $929 billion in 2007 to $165 billion this year. Pension systems are fragile. Household balance sheets are still a wreck.
Republicans could argue that it’s Nero-esque for Democrats to be plotting extensive renovations when the house is on fire. They could point out that history will judge this president harshly if he’s off chasing distant visions while the markets see a void where his banking policy should be.
Second, Republicans could admit that they don’t know what the future holds, and they’re not going to try to make long-range plans based on assumptions that will be obsolete by summer. Unlike the Democrats, they’re not for making trillions of dollars in long-term spending commitments until they know where things stand.
Instead, they’re going to focus obsessively on restoring equilibrium first, and they’re going to understand that there is a sharp distinction between crisis policy-making and noncrisis policy-making. In times like these, you’d do things you would never do normally. When it’s over, we can go back to our regularly scheduled debates.
Third, Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. When exogenous forces like the rise of China and a flood of easy money hit the global marketplace, they can throw the entire system of out of whack, leading to a cascade of imbalances: higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.
If the free market party doesn’t offer the public an honest appraisal of capitalism’s weaknesses, the public will never trust it to address them. Power will inevitably slide over to those who believe this crisis is a repudiation of global capitalism as a whole.
Fourth, Republicans could get out in front of this crisis for once. That would mean being out front with ideas to support the wealth-creating parts of the economy rather than merely propping up the fading parts. That would mean supporting President Obama’s plan for global stimulus coordination, because right now most of the world is free-riding off our expenditures. That would mean eliminating all this populist talk about letting Citigroup fail, because a cascade of insolvency would inevitably lead to full-scale nationalization. It would mean coming up with a bold banking plan, rather than just whining about whatever the Democrats have on offer.
Finally, Republicans could make it clear that that the emergency has to be followed by an era of balance. This crisis was fueled by financial decadence, and public debt could be 80 percent of G.D.P. by the time it’s over. Republicans should be the party of restoring fiscal balance — whatever it takes — not trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.
If Republicans were to treat this like a genuine emergency, with initiative-grabbing approaches, they may not get their plans enacted, but voters would at least give them another look. Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.