Afghanistan: The people behind the numbers

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Qatar

Publishing organisation: AJ Labs, Al Jazeera Digital

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-08-15

Language: English

Authors: Produced by Alia Chughtai and Hanna Duggal
Photography by Matt Reichel and Robyn Huang


Alia Chughtai and Hanna Duggal are interactive producers with Al Jazeera’s AJ Labs data journalism team.

Matt Reichel is a Canadian photojournalist and expeditioner covering geopolitics, culture and wildlife. Robyn Huang is a Canadian freelance journalist covering culture, gender issues and mental health.

Project description:

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, the country’s economic and humanitarian situation has worsened. Amid this desperation are countless stories of survival. In this story Al Jazeera spoke to seven families from across Afghanistan to tell their stories beyond the numbers.

Impact reached:

Following on from Al Jazeera’s coverage of the fall of Kabul in August 2021, for which AJ Labs won an Edward R Murrow Award for Afghanistan: Visualising the impact of 20 years of war, we followed the stories of seven families each dealing with the fallout of the Taliban takeover and crippling impact of sanctions imposed on the country.

Millions of dollars in international aid have also been halted with nine in ten families across the country not getting enough to eat each day.

When many other news outlets moved on, Al Jazeera continued to cover the story. Our ongoing coverage includes human data stories to help contextualise the situation on the ground. By continuously updating the story, we endeavor to continue raising awareness of the impact that 20 years of war has had on the Afghan people.

Techniques/technologies used:

PDF extraction, excel, HTML, CSS, AMP, photography.

We built a simple mobile first experience using AMP (accelerated mobile pages) that summarised key data points and presented useful context, including personal quotes from people on the ground.

The data was gathered by aggregating several PDF reports across multiple websites and then compiled into a spreadsheet.

In addition to the interactive, Al Jazeera also published a written feature including an audio version of the story providing more details on the lost and sold daughters of Afghanistan.

Context about the project:

Data doesn’t always exist. But a lack of data doesn’t mean that a story should be neglected. Following the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, many NGOs left the country leaving not only a humanitarian void but also vital information about the situation on the ground.

This lack of up-to-date data was our biggest challenge.

We still wanted to be able to tell the stories of the number of internally displaced people (IDPs), child marriages, hunger, education, poverty levels and child labour.

Working with reports from the remaining NGOs we gathered as much data as we could with the most up to date information on the ground and then identified several families who could tell us the stories behind these numbers. These people were able to help piece together a better understanding of what life is like for the people of Afghanistan.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Our biggest lesson from this project is that one always has to find creative ways to stay on a story irrespective of how difficult it may be. In this case, that involved finding multiple angles into a topic by complementing detailed data reports with stories from the ground. By working with journalists on the ground we were able to produce not only a written story but also a data/visual and audio story too.

Project links: