Press briefing by Ariane Quentier, Senior Public Information Officer and UN agencies in Afghanistan 4 Aug 2005

News and Press Release
Originally published
Today's guest speaker

Our guest speaker today is Cecilia Lotse, UNICEF's Regional Director for South Asia.

Miss Lotse has just returned from the south, southeast and central provinces of Afghanistan, where she has met with local and government officials, and visited a maternal health centre, a school for girls, a rural health clinic, and a women's literacy programme.

She is here today to talk about the situation of girls and women in Afghanistan.

Close to 58,000 have completed reintegration phase

Reintegration is progressing at a steady pace with 58,401 ex-combatants either having entered or completed the reintegration process.

Some of those participated in a mountain guide course and will be graduating later today. I will tell you more on that in a moment.

Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) is exploring the possibility of work opportunities for 1500 to 2500 ex-combatants in Khost and Helmand. ANBP is working with USAID to facilitate this.


The Anti-Personnel Mine & Ammunition Stockpile Destruction project document was signed this past Sunday (July 31). The document is now in wide circulation among prospective donor countries.

Meanwhile the ammunition survey continues. To date a total of 382 distinct caches of ammunitions have been surveyed including 488,573 boxed and 1.68 million unboxed ammunitions surveyed.

Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG)

ANBP has verified 7,953 weapons, [including 4,132 from candidates].

The Joint Secretariat conducted field missions to Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kapisa this week to meet provincial committee members, in particular the governors. In collaboration with the provincial committees, these missions will try to identify the hurdles that DIAG is currently facing but also assist governors and provincial authorities to plan for the implementation of DIAG as a comprehensive programme, including its development and governance components. Similar missions are planned to take place in provinces that have been identified as problematic.

With the campaign period approaching it is time to once again remind candidates that anyone found to be in violation of the election law can be disqualified and this until results are certified. In particular, all candidates must comply with the disarmament process, namely to not engage in any activity implying links to illegal armed groups and to not re-arm. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) eventually has the authority to disqualify any candidate who re-establishes links to illegal armed groups or who is found to possess weapons. It will not hesitate to exercise this power, should it be required.

22 graduate from Afghanistan's first mountaineering course

A graduation ceremony is being held later today for 22 participants of the first environmental mountaineering course which recently took place in Kabul and Panjshir (July 16 to August 1) and which was supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The 22 students, which included two females, come from various parts of Afghanistan. Each was trained to assist tourist groups in their mountain climbs or treks as well as to help maintain the country's natural environment and cultural values.

The graduation ceremony is taking place this afternoon from 2pm to 4pm at the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce. The event is open to the media.

Click here for the UNEP press release.

Religious leaders sign up to anti-HIV/AIDS work plan

Community and religious leaders from around Afghanistan have pledged their allegiance to the fight against HIV and AIDS, following a two-day national workshop held last week in Kabul and supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

More than 80 religious leaders from all 34 provinces participated in the workshop, which culminated in agreement on a 12-point work plan to tackle the spread of the disease. The leaders will now preach in mosques during Friday prayers, organize regional and provincial workshops, and support public information activities to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in the country.

Speaking at the workshop, UNFPA Deputy Representative Athanase Nzokirishaka said that HIV and AIDS is a tragedy waiting to happen in Afghanistan, and said that although no one knows the actual number of people infected with HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan the conditions are present for a dramatic increase in infections.

However, he went on to say that community and religious leaders can play a large part in the fight against HIV and AIDS and therefore make a great contribution to their county.

Click here to read the UNFPA press release.

UNDP newsletter

The latest edition of the "UNDP Afghanistan Newsletter" was released last Monday.

In this month's edition you will find stories on Kabul's new public telephone booths, the new Penitentiary Law, which signals a commitment to implement international human rights treaties, and the latest graduates from the Judicial Training Course.

To read the newsletter please surf the UNDP website (

Briefing by Sultan Baheen, JEMB National Spokesperson, "Elections Update"

Good morning, following are the latest gender accreditation figures:

- Of the overall 2,874 registered observers, agents and media representatives, 30% are female and 70% are male.

- Of the 1,013 registered domestic observers, 45% are female and 55% are male.

- Of the 89 registered international observers, 28% are female and 72% are male.

- Of the 483 registered Independent Candidate agents, 12% are female and 82% are male.

- Of the 1,132 registered Political Party agents, 27% are female and 73% are male.

- Of the 157 registered media representatives, 21% are female and 79% are male.

Questions & Answers

Question: There are some reports that the UN office in Nuristan was attacked? What is the latest update?

Spokesperson: It was not a UN office in Nuristan. We do not have a UN office in Nuristan. There are strange things going on. There are a lot of reports of things happening, security problems throughout the country and it turns out that many of them are very often not confirmed or need some time to be confirmed. I haven't got full confirmation. I am also saying that because there are other reports of security incidents that would have happened in the last 48 hours and we are trying to get our teams on the ground to see whether they happened or not. And things are either not true or very hard to confirm. So I promise to look into that and will get back to you.

Question: Do you have a mission in Nuristan?

Spokesperson: No, we do not have a mission in Nuristan. I don't know if it is misinformation or what, but there is a lot of information flying around which are not reflecting the reality. The way the UN works, at present is either through an international presence and offices or through NGOs and local authorities depending on the situation in different areas. So very often there is confusion between the fact the UN is working somewhere however it is not a UN mission as such. And you might remember the UN Country Team mission, which went to Zabul a few months ago. And we are working in Zabul but we do not have an international presence there. This is an example of a place where we work without having a permanent presence and while reviewing the security situation on a regular basis to try to establish a presence as much as possible.

Question: Can you give us an update on the USD $31 million deficit in the electoral budget?

Spokesperson: Receiving pledged funds is always a long process. But I can only reiterate what was said at the last briefing. The problem is not if the money is going to come, but when the money is going to come. And the reason why we have been mentioning this $31 million deficit is because we need donor countries to send the money as soon as possible. We made this announcement to the public a few days ago as a reminder of the urgency seven weeks before the elections.

Question: What are the rules regarding candidates using different media to campaign?

JEMB Spokesperson: During the month long campaign period candidates have the option to have two 10 minute sponsored segments on radio or five minutes on television. Radio or television, but not both. This is for the Wolesi Jirga. For the provincial council it is five minutes on radio or two minutes on television. The donors will pay directly to the media outlets, but the JEMB is monitoring, arranging and certifying the time which is being used by the candidates and during this time the candidates can use four pages worth of advertising of the print media outlet during the month.

Question: Regarding the funding for the elections, it was estimated to be USD $149 million dollars. What happened? What did you get? Where do you stand?

Spokesperson: Last March, there was an assessment of what the cost of the election would be. I remember when Peter Erben (JEMBS Chief Electoral Officer) came here to explain the concept of operations for the elections and he came up with what had been assessed as the money needed to run this election which was $149 million dollars. As of then we have been launching appeals to get the money coming in. Now you don't immediately need - and get - $149 million dollars. But you need money to start and then carry on. But you also need to give time to countries to decide whether they are going to pledge - or not - and how much they are going to pledge. Now we are in this process, which is always a longer process as it initially looks. We are getting countries putting money in the basket for the elections. Now why did we reach the current stage? As you know very well these elections preparations have been very intense and very well organized but in a fairly short period of time in a very complex country where challenges are very complex. So on one hand you have elections organized in a very short period of time. And on the other hand a funding process which is always long - and longer than expected. So I think it was a sort of wake up call to say, "Look, elections are in seven weeks". They are on track. We know you will give the money, because this is an ongoing process, but we need it now because it is in seven weeks and not in three months. To remind the donors that this is a fairly compact process where things need to be done in a very fast way. This is where we are. We need the money now to finish establishing all the mechanisms that we need for the elections. We are into a fairly normal process where you make an appeal, countries indicate their interest, they pledge, which always takes time.

Question: How much have you received of the $149 million?

Spokesperson: Well as far as you remember there was about $20 million that was handed over from the elections last year, there's $31 million missing, so $149 million minus $50 million roughly makes $100 million that have been received.

Question: Is this deficit a serious issue for the election?

Spokesperson: Again, I think you have to realize that the problem is not whether we are going to receive the money. The problem is that we need it now. So we have to speed up the process. The elections will take place, there are preparations under way, but we need money now - or as soon as possible to be able to proceed with the ongoing preparations.

JEMB Spokesperson: If I may add, we have already sent ballot papers to be printed and we have received the first portion. We also need to recruit election workers for polling day and the counting process and we need to train these people now. So we need this money very urgently. We are very hopeful to receive this money very quickly otherwise that is very serious for us. So we hope to receive this money as soon as possible.

Briefing by Cecilia Lotse, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan

This has been an opportune moment to make my first trip to Afghanistan; the country stands upon the threshold of historic parliamentary elections.

The purpose for my visit was to witness some of the progress being made by the Government and its partners in tackling the challenges facing women and girls in the face of the high rates of mortality, exacerbated by low rates of girls' enrolment in primary school, which combine to represent a waste of potential and opportunity for Afghanistan. The Minister of Health told me how in Badahkshan, maternal mortality is as high as 6,000 per 100,000 live births; in my country [Sweden] that number is probably as low as 2 or 3. The scale of the problems here are really quite staggering.

What I would like to do is to take you on a journey of a typical Afghan girl to look at some of the specific challenges facing children like her today in this country.

An Afghan child today, has a one in seven chance of dying before the end of her first year. Infant mortality in Afghanistan is high, thanks to the risk of disease and illness, made worse by the low levels of exclusive breastfeeding, whereby mothers do not exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months of their life, and then do not use the best feeding practices after this point, which means young infants do not benefit from the increased immunity levels and nutritious value that will help protect them in early stages of life.

If she survives to the age of one, the chance of her surviving until the age of five remain limited - one child in every five in Afghanistan will die before her or his fifth birthday, again because of common childhood diseases such as diarrhoeal disease, pneumonia, malaria, typhoid - many of which can be prevented through simple immunization, or improved hygiene practices.

If our young Afghan girl celebrates her fifth birthday, she may be lucky enough to go school - or she could join the two out of every three girls who remain at home, denied the chance of intellectual stimulation and development that is so critical to her future progress - and that of her family and community. With female illiteracy rates as high as 85% in Afghanistan, millions of young women are unable to play a part in the social and economic development of their community, and of herself.

Even if she enjoys a primary level education, there is a high chance that our young girl will drop out of school within a few years. Girls' enrolment in secondary school in Afghanistan is under 10%. Instead, many girls will return to the family home - to undertake domestic chores and support the family; this is especially true when the girls' mother herself is the main head of the household - nearly 4% of women in Afghanistan are widows.

Without a solid education, the chances of the girl becoming married early increase. UNICEF estimates that some 40% of all women today in Afghanistan were married before the age of 18, and a third of these women became mothers before the age of 18. The younger the bride, the younger the mother, the higher the risks are of complications in pregnancy, the less opportunity for her social development.

And finally, if our young girl makes it to this stage of her life in reasonable health, maybe with some education - the statistics tell us that her life expectancy will still be less than that of men. Afghanistan, I believe, is the only country in the world where men live longer than women.

But my visit was not all doom and gloom. Indeed I end my trip here with some degree of hope. I have seen signs of progress, for example in Kandahar where I visited a provincial obstetric care centre that is caring for mothers with complications in their pregnancies. This is a major step forward in improving maternal health care, although of course it is still essential to tackle the issues of how to get mothers from the villages, to the districts and to the provincial centres, and ensuring that families recognize and understand the onset of possible complications in time to seek assistance. I also saw a community-based school, which is attempting to overcome the problems faced by girls who live too far from the nearest formal classroom; the Ministry of Education is supporting an interim solution, with a local woman chosen as the teacher, a private home being used for the classroom, and boys and girls being able to study for several hours a day.

I also got the sense that the Government has a strategic vision for the future, that it knows in which direction we need to move, in order to tackle the problems facing the people. The types of initiatives that I saw form part of the basis of tackling the challenges for women and girls in Afghanistan. It is essential that all of us - the Government, the UN, and others, - prioritise investments in education, that we increase the quality and accessibility of health care for women. We have to build a new generation of female health workers, we have to encourage women to become teachers. We need to ensure that resources are targeted at those provinces where the statistics tell the worst stories about women and girls.

There are no quick fixes. But we have to start on our own journey now, to ensure that we meet the goals ahead. I believe, from what I have seen in the last week, that we have taken the first critical steps on that journey. In ten years time, we will have a chance to measure our progress, as we review the Millennium Development Goal targets. How well Afghanistan does then, depends on how serious we are today about making the right investments, investments that must start with women and girls.

Questions & Answers

Question: In terms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's), if the situation is that acute and there is an emergency, is Afghanistan going to meet the MDG's? Also, what do you think should happen to tackle this silent emergency that you describe? Are there any short-term measures that can take place to tackle this problem in Afghanistan?

Cecilia Lotse: I think that it is difficult to foresee whether Afghanistan will meet the numerical targets or not. We have a ten-year period ahead of us to find the right strategies and the right approaches to bring us as close to the target as possible. There is sufficient knowledge about what are the most effective strategies and approaches that need to be taken. In a situation of scarcity you always have to make difficult choices. In a situation of a war torn country, where the infrastructure has been so seriously damaged, the Government of Afghanistan has particularly difficult choices to make. For the MDG's to be fulfilled the incredible need for investment in human development must be recognized in the budgets continuously. But there must also be continued high level support from the international community to make this possible. It is very often a challenge for a country that moves from an emergency state to a developmental state to maintain the same level of attention globally. It is part of our responsibility within the UN system to present the case for the needs. And also to explain and show that the investments that are being made in Afghanistan are the right investments for its people. If we can't tell that story then it becomes difficult to keep your partners with you over the long journey.