Afghanistan

Press briefing by Ariane Quentier, Senior Public Information Officer and UN agencies in Afghanistan 9 Jun 2005

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TALKING POINTS

Today's Speaker

Today's speaker is Dr Abdulah Fahim, advisor to the Afghan Minister of Public Health.

He will talk to you about the outcome of a three-day workshop held in Kabul from last Sunday until Tuesday, on improving the coverage of routine immunization and child health care.

DDR

As indicated by the Afghanistan 's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), a total of 58,974 officers and soldiers have disarmed under the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme.

From that figure, a total of 49,205 former combatants have entered the reintegration process.

In terms of weapon collection, some 33,506 medium and light weapons have been collected from military units which have gone through the DDR programme. Of this figure, 13,377 have been transferred to the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Afghan National Army (ANA).

In addition, the nationwide ammunition survey launched five months ago has identified 480,036 boxed and 1,194,793 unboxed ammunitions throughout the country. Much of the ammunition was identified as unserviceable and has been destroyed by implementing partners such as the Halo Trust, whilst the rest, which is useable, has been transported to safe and standard storage.

Flood Update

We told you during the last briefing about heavy rains on Saturday and Sunday which led to flooding in the Darwaz district of Badakhshan Province. Initial reports indicate there is damage to 34 houses in the Jomarch-e Payan Darwaz area, some 30 km away from Nussai Darwaz. However, a final assessment still needs to be made, as the area is hardly accessible - with difficult terrain and no road access.

In terms of initial response, the Disaster Response Committee in Faizabad, which is made up of representatives of provincial government, all UN agencies, the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and leading Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), has been quick to react. As of Tuesday the Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development was airlifting 20 tents, along with 250kg of medical supplies from the Department of Public Health. A team of surveyors, including a staff member from the Department of Agriculture and Food, was also flown in to make a more thorough damage assessment.

While initial assistance in terms of food and non-food items was provided by the NGOs FOCUS and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) which have a presence and limited stocks in the Darwaz area, additional humanitarian supplies will come from Faizabad through UNAMA's coordination and the NGOs Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) and Concern.

Finally the NGO FOCUS will try to deliver assistance to the affected areas through Tajikistan .

Preparation for elections gaining speed

A full weekend is planned in support to both the Afghan parliamentary elections and the Afghan parliamentary support project. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is signing two significant funding agreements and launching the first day of school for new parliamentary staff.

UNDP Country Director Frederick Lyons will be signing cost-sharing agreements with the Government of Canada and the European Commission (EC) in separate ceremonies this weekend, Saturday and Sunday respectively. Governments support will provide CDN $ 8 million and EU Euros 8.5 million to the Afghan elections project. The EC is contributing an additional EU Euros 3 million in support of UNDP's parliamentary support project - support to the Establishment of the Afghan Legislature (SEAL). JEMB spokesperson Sultan Baheen will also be on hand at the ceremonies to address questions from media.

This weekend will also mark the first day of classes for a new cadre of 120 parliamentary staff. The six-week training is designed to develop very practical and pragmatic administrative and management skills, and introduces the participants to the basic rules common to all legislative assemblies.

Parliamentary manual on Afghan Constitution

Meanwhile, in a separate development the Gender and Justice unit of the United Nations Women's Fund's (UNIFEM) has published a manual entitled "Parliamentary Manual: Institutional and Legal Principles".

A legal and institutional resource publication, the manual, which focuses on the Constitution of Afghanistan, is aimed at parliamentary candidates, parliamentarians, and legal and political organizations. It has been designed as a training tool for those with no legal background.

Taskforce for combating violence against women

Following the signing of a decree by President Karzai on Monday, a new inter-ministerial Task Force to Eliminate Violence Against Women will be initiated.This move enacts a major recommendation arising from the workshop "Governmental Task Force: Combating Violence Against Women", which was led by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, and supported by UNIFEM and the Government of Italy in November, 2004. The Task Force's mandate will be to work for the elimination of violence against women in Afghanistan under a common framework and plan. The task force members include high-ranking representatives from various Afghan institutions and ministries.

Gender advocacy newsletter

The third issue of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Gender Advocacy Newsletter is now available.

As mentioned in previous briefings, this newsletter is a valuable resource designed to provide journalists and policy-makers with the up-to-date information they need for their gender campaigning efforts.

This month's issue covers violence against women, disability in Afghanistan , nutrition of pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as the Afghan Constitution and the Parliament.

Copies of the publication can be downloaded from www.afghanistan.unifem.org .

Judicial library opened by the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The library and publication department within the Ministry of Justice was opened on Tuesday during an official ceremony held jointly by the Ministry of Justice, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Government of Italy.

The library, which accommodates over 5,000 books and publications, has been renovated and refurbished. It is now accessible for judicial staff as well as the general public. The project, which has been organized by UNODC, with the support of the Italian government, also provides training on database management for library administration. This initiative forms part of the wider UNODC justice capacity building programme, which started in 2003 and will run up until 2006.

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Spokesman

As temperatures begin to rise across Afghanistan , the country's Ministry of Public Health and UNICEF are warning of increased risks from diarrhoeal disease - especially in the country's major cities. Diarrhoeal disease is believed to be a leading cause of death amongst children in Afghanistan, responsible for more than 50,000 deaths amongst children under the age of five every year and contributing to one of the world's worst child mortality rates.

A new information and education campaign will be launched by the Ministry of Public Health this Sunday, 12 June, addressing one of the major causes of transmission of diarrhoeal disease - poor hand washing and hygiene practices. Health experts believe that improved hand wishing at critical times - such as before preparing food, before and after eating, and after using the latrine - can itself significantly reduce the rate of infection. With 70 per cent of Afghanistan 's urban populations not having access to adequate sanitation, combined with high summer temperatures and dense population, city dwellers are at particular risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease at this time of year. Children are especially vulnerable, as dehydration caused by diarrhoeal disease can prove fatal.

The new campaign will focus on the core message "A healthy family prevents diarrhoea", which will be communicated through a series of radio spots to be broadcast on Radio Afghanistan from Saturday, and a programme of face-to-face education undertaken in schools and through home visits. An estimated 500,000 people living in 18 districts of Kabul will be targeted by the campaign in its first phase. Over the coming weeks and month's cities such as Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif will be covered by similar campaigns.

Bronwyn Curran, JEMB International Spokesperson

With just over two weeks to go until the voter registry update begins on June 25 th , the Joint Electoral Management Body has approved the establishment of 487 Voter Registration centres across Afghanistan .

Each centre will have a separate male voter registration station (or booth) and female voter registration station, meaning a total of 974 voter registration stations (or booths). There will be at least one Voter Registration centre per district. In the cities of Heart, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar , four voter registration centres will be set up. In Kabul 18 voter registration centres will operate.

In addition, there will be 81 separate voter registration centres across Afghanistan for Kuchis. So in total 568 voter registration centres will operate across Afghanistan over four weeks from June 25 th to July 21 st .

The voter registry update is being conducted to allow us to add to the voter registry - compiled ahead of the 2004 Presidential Election - those people who did not register. It is also to allow already-registered voters the chance to correct details on their voter registration cards, in particular their province of residence. This is important because the province listed on the voter registration card will determine where voters can cast their ballots.

The six-day challenge period ends at 4.00pm today - that is the deadline for submitting formal challenges against candidates on the preliminary list.

The preliminary list of candidates has been on display since Saturday June 4. Over the past six days individuals and organizations have been able to file challenges against candidates who may not meet the criteria for eligibility.

In the first four days a total of 92 challenges were filed against candidates nationwide. The largest number so far has been in Laghman province, where 20 challenges were filed, followed by Kunduz with 11 challenges and Helmand with 9 challenges.

I must stress these are the figures for the first four days only, they do not include challenges filed yesterday or today. When those figures are compiled we will announce them to the media. In addition, we have received 39 complaints in the first four days.

I remind you of the difference between a challenge and a complaint. A challenge is filed against an individual candidate or candidates, on the grounds that they are considered not eligible to contest the elections in accordance with the criteria listed in the Electoral Law. A complaint is against any perceived violation of the electoral process or concerning the behaviour of electoral officials.

Briefing by Dr. Abdullah Fahim, Advisor to the Minister of Public Health of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

Afghanistan has some of the worst health status indicators in the world. In brief, every day 700 Afghan children under-five and around 70 Afghan mothers die. The main causes of child mortality are diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections with a seasonal dominance, vaccine preventable diseases like measles, pertussis and diphtheria, communicable disease, especially malaria and tuberculosis, and malnutrition, not only as a contributing but causative factor. Maternal deaths are caused mainly from haemorrhage, obstructed labours, sepsis, maternal malnutrition, frequent pregnancies, and too early pregnancies, as well as low access to trained birth attendants.

The Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has undertaken several measures to tackle this situation. These include the introduction of a Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), the expansion of Emergency Obstetric Care Centres, successful maternal mortality reduction and Maternal and Neo-natal Tetanus elimination campaigns, the adoption of Integrated Management of Childhood Diseases, the conduction of several midwifery and community midwifery courses, chlorine solution production and its social marketing, and iodine salt production. These are all activities aimed towards maternal and child health improvements. The new management of the Ministry has introduced a Maternal and Child Health and Reproductive Health Deputy Minister to better advocate for mothers and children. But all of these (measures) have not proved sufficient. The Ministry is taking into consideration affordability, efficiency and cost effectiveness and is trying to find more practical ways of covering more and more people with limited resources.

One of these efforts is our last three-day workshop on " Building Consensus for Improving Routine Immunization Coverage and the Coverage of Evidence Based Child Health Interventions in Afghanistan ", which took place from 5 th till 7 th June 2005 .

The objectives of this workshop were:

  • To call the attention of development partners to the silent emergency that is the preventable suffering and deaths among children and women in Afghanistan.

  • To identify and agree on additional actions to achieve and maintain over 80% immunization coverage in Afghanistan (the globally agreed standard).

  • To agree on additional actions to reach a package of evidence based package of evidence-based, high impact child survival interventions for Afghan children.

  • To develop consensus on a multi-year plan of action for achieving over 80 per cent routine immunization coverage and the implementation of high impact maternal and child health interventions.
Although the workshop ended with outcomes mainly focusing on improvements in the Expanded Programme and Immunization and child health, we also had fruitful discussions on the broader issues on child and mother survival. We raised the issue of having multipurpose health workers as a best solution to an Afghan, considering geographical barriers, low coverage, financial limitations, shortage of and resistance amongst some health professionals to move in rural areas. Our hope is that our partners consider the training of existing vaccinators and community health workers as multipurpose health workers for a future sustainable health care system.

Some of the key recommendations made at the end of the workshop included:

  • The proper screening of eligible patients at facility level

  • Competency based training for immunization and non-immunization personnel

  • Improved logistics and supply management at all levels

  • Better systems for ensuring accountability within the health service

  • Developing a simple package of effective health interventions together with immunization - for example, V itamin A supplementation, the treatment of pneumonia, treatment of diarrhea, provision of Insecticide Treated Bed Nets against malaria, the provision of iron folate supplements to mothers and the de-worming of mothers and children

  • Improved information and communication, such as h ealth facilities being provided with information on all services, for service providers, doctors, nurses, MW and vaccinators, the production of posters and other visible information and educational materials to be used by service providers such as vaccinators, midwives and community health workers, the better involvement of community leaders in planning and implementing community health activities and the involvement of community/village Shuras for social mobilization.

  • Finally, in the area of improved management, key recommendations included that the Policy & Planning Department in the Ministry of Public Health develops formal policies for integrated service packages and that the Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses unit of the Ministry develops guidelines for training and implementation of these integrated packages.
Questions & Answers

Question: Has the UN done anything to secure the release of Clementina since the petition last week?

Senior Public Information Officer: The petition signed by the Heads of UN agencies in Afghanistan has been a major expression of solidarity for Clementina who has been abducted over three weeks ago. But the UN is not directly involved in the investigation or the negotiations that might be ongoing. So what is done to secure Clementina's release is a question that you might want to ask the Ministry of Justice or the Italian authorities. But we certainly all hope for the safe and speedy release of Clementina - as clearly mentioned in the petition.

Question: Has there been any signs of the rise in the number of cases of diarrhoeal disease in hospitals in Afghanistan ? How vulnerable is Afghanistan to this disease?

UNICEF Spokesman: On the first question I do not have any information on a specific rise in hospital cases - I will refer that question to our speaker Dr Fahim from the Ministry of Health. In terms of the general risk, as I said before, it is believed to be one of the leading killers of children under the age of 5 in this country. Some 50,000 children under the age of 5 die every year because of diarrhoeal disease and the numbers may be more, as this is a conservative estimate. What is most frightening about this is that this is a preventable disease. Very simple household hygiene practices can actually stop the contraction of the disease and therefore prevent contraction and the death of children. On that basis alone it is a serious problem, and it is taken very seriously by the Ministry of Public Health and its' partners. We very much hope that the campaign that starts this weekend will bring literally into peoples' homes the message that you can prevent diarrhoeal disease, you can protect your family, and you must, because otherwise you put your children's lives at risk.

Question: Could you tell us about the nature of the challenges? [against prospective candidates]

JEMB International Spokesperson: The challenges are kept absolutely confidential. So neither electoral staff receiving the challenges, nor staff in HQ know what are in those challenges. The only people who read them are the staff of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). This privacy and confidentiality is a key part to the whole challenge process. The exact nature of them I do not know, and I am not supposed to know.

Question: How will people be informed that there is a challenge against them?

JEMB International Spokesperson: The ECC has until the end of June to adjudicate on all challenges. On July 2 nd they will issue to each provincial candidate nomination office a list of excluded candidates on a province-by-province basis. So the only way to find out if you have been excluded is to go into you provincial candidate nomination office and check that list. There will also be lists issued which we call provisional candidate lists, which is the list of candidates minus those who have been excluded. So that is the only way that candidates can find out whether they have been excluded or not.

Question: How can candidates appeal the decision?

JEMB International Spokesperson: Between July 2 nd and July 7 th anyone who may be excluded from the list can respond formally to the ECC, and the ECC will consider all responses. If the response proves that the challenge is unjustified and that the ECC finds that the original challenge is unjustified, then there is a chance that they can be put back on the list and join the final list, which will be certified by the JEMB on July 12 th .

Question: How can the Commission prove the challenge, they may just be allegations?

JEMB International Spokesperson: The ECC has a team of 37 investigators. They will be looking to ensure that the basis of a challenge is not just a case of rivalry between candidates or is not something petty or trivial or irrelevant. The only thing that can lead to the exclusion of a candidate is if they do not meet any of the clearly stated criteria for eligibility. If they are not of the right age, if they are not citizens of Afghanistan, if they have not fully disarmed and severed all links with armed groups, or if they have been convicted of any crime, be it a petty crime or a crime against humanity, if they have been deprived of their rights by a civil court. These are the only grounds for excluding a candidate. So the ECC are there to differentiate between rivalries and genuine reasons for challenging a candidate.

Question: If someone is accused of committing a crime, does the Commission send an investigation team to investigate the matter?

JEMB International Spokesperson: As I said there are 37 investigators that are working very closely with the Afghan Government's authorities, such as the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the National Security Directorate, the courts. There will be a lot of cross checking of information on individuals to determine who has been convicted of a crime. The ECC will be working closely with the joint secretariat for the disarmament and reintegration commission, crosschecking lists and information to make sure that any of these candidates, who once had links with armed groups, have fully severed those links and fully complied with the disarmament requirements.

Question: Could you give us further information on the complaints and challenges period and tell us about the affect and impact of the exclusion of candidates from the elections list?

JEMB International Spokesperson: It is the hope of the JEMB and the ECC that this challenge and exclusion process will mean that the only people running for parliament and the provincial councils are those people who meet the criteria. Those people who are either over 18 if they are running for the provincial council, or over 25 if they are running for the Wolesi Jirga, that they are citizens of Afghanistan, that they have not been convicted of any crime, and that they do not have any links to non official armed force or illegal group. Also that they are not electoral officials - there is a list of certain job categories that cannot run for election unless they resign their posts. These include; members of the Supreme Court, all members of armed forces, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence, governors, district administrators, department heads. This is all clearly spelt out in the candidate nomination process. So it is hoped that the impact will be that the only people running for parliament will be those who meet these criteria and have not been convicted of crimes and don't have any links with armed groups.

Question: With reference to President Karzai's statement on banning the ownership of arms and ammunition and the fact that the Afghan government may soon ratify a law on this. How will this affect the DDR programme?

Senior Public Information Officer: These are two different things. In every country there is a need to have a legislation on who is entitled to have or bear weapons. This is what is happening in Afghanistan. On the other hand we have the DDR programme, which has been put together with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to address the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed forces which have registered under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence (MOD). In addition, there are illegal armed groups, another issue as they are not under the umbrella of the MOD and not part of the DDR programme. In any case, when talking about DDR, disarmament of illegal armed groups or a legislation on weapons detention, we are talking about different things, whose only common denominator are the weapons.

Question: Still, will it not affect the UN DDR programme?

Senior Public Information Officer: The DDR programme is meant to address armed forces under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence. The UN has been directly involved, through ANBP, in the DDR programme, to be completed by the end of June. The UN is also indirectly involved in the issue of illegal armed groups. But the legislation is not going to affect any of these projects - because we are talking of different things.

Question: Can you answer my earlier question about the incidence of diarrhoeal disease in hospitals, and secondly two or three months ago the Minister of Public Health raised the issue of this silent emergency - does the country still face such an emergency and what actions have been taken by the government and it partners?

Spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health: Well, on the issue of diarrhoeal incidence in hospitals, yes there have been some increases. The Ministry has seen about 600 cases in hospitals since (inaudible) and we have been collecting samples, especially from water sources, and we have chlorinated 600 water sources in where there have been cases reported. And of course this week sees the launch of the new campaign on diarrhoeal disease prevention, which will be very important.

On the second question, His Excellency the Minister used the opportunity of World Health Day to address this silent emergency. Afterwards he attended the World Health Assembly and was able to share with counterparts again and again the issue, and he brought with him the proposed budget of the Ministry, which shows that there is still a need for US$10 million for even basic health services. We have received pledges of several million dollars for the immunization programme, and every day the Minister is meeting with donor agencies and different countries, especially the Gulf countries, and seeking support. We have received drug distributions from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates . But every day we are lobbying for more funds for mother and child health programmes.