ESOC Working Paper # 34: Estimating the Collapse of Afghanistan’s Economy Using Nightlights Data

Publication Year
ESOC Working Paper Series

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 is associated with a rapid collapse of the Afghan economy. In lieu of official data, attempts to measure the scale of the collapse have relied on rapid surveys of the population. We validate these qualitative measures by using nightlights as a proxy measure for changes in GDP. Utilizing a synthetic control and nightlights data of neighboring countries, we find that Afghanistan’s regime change was associated with a shift from a positive growth trajectory towards a deep recession, even after taking the Covid pandemic into account. We estimate that Afghanistan’s GDP has fallen on the order of 28% since mid-2021, consistent with the World Bank’s survey measures. However, unlike the World Bank, we report confidence intervals conveying the uncertainties surrounding these point estimates. This study demonstrates the potential applicability of our methodology in settings of scarce or unreliable administrative data.


Sänger, T., et al. (2023). Estimating the Collapse of Afghanistan’s Economy Using Nightlights Data (ESOC Working Paper No. 34). Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. Retrieved [March 6, 2023], from

Publication Topic
Economic Development
Publication Type
ESOC Working Paper