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AFGHANISTAN: Heavy rains continue in Badakhshan
Heavy rains continue to flood districts in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which could cause considerable damage if prolonged, a UN official told IRIN on Friday. "It has been raining heavily for the past three days," UN resident coordinator for Badakhshan, Paola Emerson in the provincial capital Faizabad said. Although there had not been any significant damage or injuries reported in the affected areas, Emerson warned that the situation could worsen. Up to 100 houses were damaged by bad weather in the districts of Teshkan, 90 km west of Faizabad, Khash 40 km southeast of the town, and Argu, which is adjacent to the provincial capital. "Access is a big problem as roads are being blocked off for several hours, making it difficult for us to move around," she maintained.
AFGHANISTAN: Think tank warns of war if Loya Jirga fails
An independent think thank has warned that the failure of the upcoming Emergency Loya Jirga or grand council might plunge Afghanistan back into civil war. It has urged the international community to initiate confidence building measures between the hostile Afghan factions, and to ensure security and assistance to the UN and the Loya Jirga commission during the event. "Expectations [from the event] are unreasonably high. Visions of a great leap forward in reconciliation are misplaced, and the danger of missteps are grave," said a report on the Loya Jirga by the International Crisis group (ICG), a private multinational organisation working on conflict prevention.
AFGHANISTAN: Interview with Gul Agha Sherzai, Governor of Kandahar
The governor of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, Gul Agha Sherzai, has only recently resumed his post after an absence of almost six years. But like Rashid Dostum in the north, Ismail Khan in the west and Haji Qadir in the east, Sherzai is a survivor. Indeed, following the demise of the Taliban regime, he has re-emerged as one of the most prominent political and military figures in the country. In an interview with IRIN, he said he was satisfied with the security and ongoing poppy eradication efforts in the former Taliban stronghold that once produced more than 50 percent of the country's opium, and maintained that the upcoming Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, in June would succeed in ultimately bringing peace and stability to his war-torn homeland.
AFGHANISTAN: NGOs slam higher UN salaries
In the backdrop of increasing efforts by the assistance community to rebuild Afghanistan, many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have criticised the UN for paying higher salaries and depriving them of a much needed talented workforce. "It is [creating] a kind of dominos effect," assistant country director of the international NGO CARE Hassan Mohmed told IRIN on Monday from Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar. "The UN is paying too high salaries, which is counter productive to the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan," he said. Out of some 500 staff members of CARE, at least 10 have joined the world body after being offered more lucrative salaries. "The issue is not that people are leaving, but the kind of people that are leaving," he added.
AFGHANISTAN: Threat of increasing disease as refugees return
Health experts on Tuesday warned of an increase in the spread of infectious diseases as Afghans return home to a country which has no health-care system. "We are seeing increasing cases of diarrhoea since people started returning," Stethane Robin, the medical coordinator for Medicine Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told IRIN. He said there had been a dramatic rise in the number of patients they were seeing as the repatriation drive continued to grow. "Last month we saw 6,000 Afghans, and in the first week of May we have already seen more then 1,000 patients." Robin pointed out that there was also a high risk of disease being contracted during the returnees' journey home. "They are travelling in terrible conditions," he maintained, adding that many pregnant women were being forced to give birth on the way, without proper health-care facilities.
PAKISTAN: Robbers attack returning Afghan refugees in the south
An international NGO has called for increased security on a main highway, following an incident in which a convoy carrying Afghan refugees was fired on and robbed. The convoy, comprising seven buses, was passing through the Shikarpur District in the north of the country's southern Sindh Province when robbers stopped the vehicles. "This route is notorious for robberies and we need to protect these poor refugees," the director of the Focus NGO, Rafiq Halani, told IRIN on Wednesday from the southern port city of Karachi. Focus staff members were travelling with the convoy to oversee the repatriation of the refugees, and informed their managers soon after the incident, which took place at 03:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Tuesday. "Our programme manager was at the scene by 8 a.m. and contacted the relevant people, including the police," he said.
PAKISTAN: Afghan refugees complain of police harassment
Afghan refugees going home after years of exile are complaining of harassment and extortion by the Pakistani police, citing it as one of the reasons for their decision to leave. "I have no complaint against the [Pakistani] people. They were kind," one refugee, Aslam Khan, told IRIN outside the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. "But the police were terrible. They extorted money from us poor people," Khan said while waiting along with hundreds of other Afghans to go home. Khan had been a refugee for 18 years and was now leading his small family back to his country - ravaged by more than 20 years of war. "I hear things are much better there now, so I am leaving," he noted, adding that being a refugee meant living without dignity.
PAKISTAN: Focus on water crisis
Imagine a city of over a million people without water. Such a scenario looms over Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan, where drought and intensive exploitation of ground-water reservoirs mean a crisis could manifest itself within the next few years. While the upper replenishable alluvial aquifers are already stressed by the ongoing drought and the drilling of too many tube-wells in the valley, the government is digging more deep wells to extract water from the hard-rock aquifers to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the city.
PAKISTAN: Focus on cross border trade and smuggling
His shop brimming over with western-made telephones, fax machines and an assortment of used Japanese computers, Abdul Ghafur, could not be prouder. Situated in the small border market of Wesh near the Pakistani border crossing point of Chaman, but just inside Afghanistan - a country with hardly any functional communications network - the shop's location is unusual, but business could hardly be better. The ethnic Pashtun businessman told IRIN that he earned between US $250 and $500 a month and - apart from a few dollars a month for rent - paid no taxes. Like other shopkeepers and traders in the market, his home was a few kilometres away inside Pakistan. "There is no other work to do, and my shop gives me enough money to look after my family," he said. Abdul Ghafur and his two younger brothers also operate another shop to take care of another 20 family members, but they are hardly alone.
PAKISTAN: UNHCR increases planned repatriation figures to 850,000
Despite serious funding concerns, as the number of Afghans wanting to return to their homeland from Pakistan intensifies, UNHCR has had not choice but to revise this year's original planning figures to an ambitious 850,000. The joint voluntary repatriation programme between Islamabad and the UN refugee agency had originally called for up to 400,000 Afghan refugees to return this year. Sunjic's comments follow Saturday's landmark turning point for the programme when the half million mark was reached and quickly surpassed - already well beyond the expectations of original estimates. On Sunday, a total of 513,808 Afghans had returned to Afghanistan since the programme began on 1 March. As part of the assistance package, returnees are provided with food and non-food related assistance, as well as a small monetary grant.
KYRGYZSTAN: Landslides threaten radioactive waste dumps
Recent landslides in southern Kyrgyzstan threaten to flood nearby areas, including radioactive storage sites containing Soviet-era uranium waste, UN and government officials said. Amanbai Sarnogoev, an official of the Kyrgyz Ministry of Ecology and Emergency, had told the United Nations on Tuesday that the overall situation in the area was stabilising, but the ministry was monitoring the threat of the landslides daily, a UN official told IRIN from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Olga Grebennikova, the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Public Affairs Officer, said that according to information provided by the ministry, a landslide started to move in Mayluu-Suu city of Jalal-Abad Oblast on Sunday, partially covering the channel of the Mayluu-Suu river. This had led to the flooding of the Kyrgyzelectroizolit power plant.
TAJIKISTAN: Urgent funding needed to stop locusts destroying crops
Thousands of hectares of farmland in northern and southern regions of Tajikistan would be destroyed this year by locusts unless funding to tackle the problem was made available soon, an official from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told IRIN on Monday. The agency currently has US $30,000 but estimates that between US $200,000 to US $300,000 was needed in order to save thousands of hectares of land. However, with only 10 days left before the locusts start flying, there was little hope of the additional money being raised in time.
CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly News Wrap
Iran has strongly protested about an agreement between the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan to divide up the northern section of the energy-rich Caspian sea. "The bilateral accord cannot be considered a legal regime for the sea," foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, was quoted by the official Iranian news agency IRNA as saying on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev signed an accord on Monday in Moscow dividing the northern quarter of the Caspian sea between their countries. The agreement followed an unsuccessful summit last month of the five nations - Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan - bordering the sea.
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