Two weeks ago in New York, I underlined to leaders in the United Nations that today's conference is a unique opportunity for the rest of the world to show that it cares about supporting a stable Afghanistan. This is why I am very glad to welcome 75 countries and 25 international organisations here this morning. And I especially want to greet President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah and all the representatives of the Afghan government who join us as co-hosts.
In today's world, responsible nations face many serious challenges at the same time. Despite this, the interest and level of engagement in Afghanistan show that the international community's commitment remains strong, even after 15 years.
As of 2017, the EU and its Member States will be the largest donor of development assistance to Afghanistan. We will be supporting international efforts and local capacity building with around 1.3 billion euros this year, and will maintain this effort until 2020. More than 4,100 EU nationals are assisting local security forces, primarily through the NATO-led Operation Resolute Support, but also through the EU's police training mission in Kabul.
These contributions reflect a strategy for a self-reliant Afghanistan, built on security, democracy, economic development and the rule of law.
In many ways the strategy is succeeding, thanks to the joint efforts of the Afghan authorities and international partners. To give a few examples. In 2001, only one million children were in school and almost all of those were boys. Today, more than 9 million children, nearly 40 per cent of them girls, are enrolled. During the same period, access to primary healthcare has increased from 9% of the population to more than 57%. And reform actions have been overall encouraging, especially in the area of public finance management, and in other sectors including justice, anti-corruption and human rights. More must now be done to make these things a reality in everyday life in Afghanistan.
All of us need to be very pragmatic over the coming months. Without our vigilance and support, Afghanistan could easily slide backward. Violent extremism, narcotics and political factionalism remain ever-present enemies of the country's future. Too many Afghans live below the poverty line. Too many see no future for themselves in Afghanistan. This is why we will focus today on a new Afghan National Peace and Development Framework, solid indicators to measure progress over the next two years, and new national priority programmes. At the same time, we must not ignore the issue of security. It remains the most important component for ensuring the success of all initiatives.
To the countries from the region gathered here today, we want to underline that Afghanistan will overcome the vicious cycle of fragility, poverty and violent extremism only with the help and co-operation of its neighbours. Financial support is very welcome but far more important is to support the efforts of those pushing for peace. An end to the climate of conflict will bring benefits to every single country in the region, also economically. Therefore I appeal to every country to act responsibly in the interests of a stable Afghanistan.
Europe wants to see the Afghan reform process accelerate and become more robust, for the good of the people of Afghanistan. Political stability, peace and security are essential for economic development to take hold. Then, security and prosperity begin to re-inforce each other in a virtuous cycle. We have experienced this in Europe in our postwar history. To get to that situation in Afghanistan, we need a viable peace process, reform of the judiciary and - in time - proper parliamentary elections. We need stronger state institutions. That is why the European Union and Afghanistan have signed a State Building contract worth 200 million euros to support stability and good governance in the country.
No global challenge is more divisive or emotionally loaded than the issue of migration, whether we are speaking of refugee protection, internally displaced persons or irregular economic migrants. EU countries are doing the most to support humanitarian relief efforts for internally displaced persons; the most to help host communities support refugees in the region; and are leading the West in the care of asylum seekers. We do not expect praise for this. But we do expect sending countries to take back irregular economic migrants, in line with international standards and obligations. That is why I want to thank the Afghan government for its courage in agreeing a way forward to manage migration fairly in co-operation with the European Union. We will support this agreement with money and job-creation programmes to reintegrate returning migrants to the benefit of their local communities.
The people of Afghanistan are at a crossroads. The Afghan government and international community are holding the signpost. One road leads back to violence, endemic poverty and regional instability. The other leads to self-sufficiency, prosperity and a new generation of healthy, educated Afghan girls and boys. The Afghan people have suffered enough; they deserve peace, security and the freedom to plan a common future in their own country.
Unlike some, I do not believe that the Afghans are doomed to repeat a troubled history over and over. As the great poet Rumi - who the Afghans call Jalāl ad-Dīn Balkhī - once said: "Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.”
I wish everyone a good conference and that we will plant many new seeds for Afghanistan. Thank you.