Afghanistan: UNAMA Year in Review Jan 2009 - UN urges support for agriculture and poppy eradication

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The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, began the year urging strong support for agriculture and big infrastructure in Afghanistan.

At a media conference in Kabul on 13 January, Mr Eide, alongside the Minister of Agriculture Muhammad Asif Rahimi and Canada's Minister for International Cooperation Beverley Oda, emphasized that such assistance was essential. Earlier, the Government of Canada contributed 14 million Canadian dollars towards Afghanistan's humanitarian needs in the winter, on top of existing programmes for national and local development.

The Special Representative also took the opportunity to announce that a joint Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) involving the Government and donors and covering some US$ 600 million in relief projects would be launched within weeks.

Since 2002 Afghanistan's agriculture sector has received relatively little investment and attention, but the Paris Conference of June 2008 made agriculture a priority area for the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners.

Mr Eide also addressed Afghanistan's troublesome drug problem early on in 2009 by urging Afghans to take the lead on poppy elimination. Flanked by Afghan cabinet ministers and governors at a workshop on sustainable poppy elimination, Mr Eide asked for efforts to continue against poppy cultivation and praised poppy-free provinces.

He said that although progress had been made with the support of the international community, Afghanistan still produces "the largest illegal crop on earth today."

"It is unreasonable to expect the international community to maintain or increase its support unless Afghans take the lead in ending this contradiction," he added.

The Special Representative also pledged to ensure adequate resources were available.

Progress was also made on mine-clearing in Afghanistan. According to a senior official, more than 82,000 anti-personnel mines were cleared in Afghanistan in 2008. However, Dr Haider Reza, the Programme Director of the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA), cautioned that the funding needed to meet the 2013 demining completion goal - around US $ 500 million - was threatened by the world economic situation, noting that he would be tapping new donors, such as the Gulf States, in addition to "traditional" ones.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, and more than four million Afghans are living in mine-contaminated areas.

According to the Ottawa Convention on landmines, however, Afghanistan must be completely cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) by 2013, and the Afghanistan Compact calls for 70 per cent of explosive infested land to be cleared by 2011.

MACCA estimates that one third of Afghanistan's territory still needs to be cleared by the 2013 deadline. Dr Reza said he felt the goal was achievable.

As part of its development agenda, UNICEF announced it was building 12 new schools in Baghlan province in the north of Afghanistan which would benefit more than 12,000 students. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also donated 60 used computers to the Afghanistan Women and Children's Rights Association for the benefit of girls' schools around Kunduz in north-eastern Afghanistan.

Meantime, on the political front, as voter registration entered its fourth and final phase in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, and Uruzgan, the country's Independent Election Commission declared that the presidential and provincial elections would be held on 20 August.

By Aditya Mehta, UNAMA