Press briefing by David Singh, Public Information Officer, Office of Communication and Public Information UNAMA 02 Mar 2003

Visits of the DSRSG Nigel Fisher

The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction, Nigel Fisher, left Kabul yesterday to attend the annual conference of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation scheduled to take place on Saturday 8 March in Lucerne, Switzerland. The Conference is entitled Humanitarian Aid for More Security.

The main theme of the Conference will be on the provision of humanitarian aid in a context of increasing insecurity. While participants will review how humanitarian aid can contribute to improving people's security, they will also examine how humanitarian actors themselves need security as well to be able to carry out their mandates.

Also attending the Conference will be Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey, Heidi Tagliavini, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Georgia; Walter Fust, Director-General, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and; Field Person, Representative of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Prior to the Conference Mr. Fisher will visit London where he will meet with the Treasury of the United Kingdom and the Department for International Development (DFID). He will then go on to Geneva where he will meet with UN agencies including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) before attending the meeting in Lucerne next Saturday.

Update on the North

Generals Dostum and Ata Mohammed met yesterday under the auspices of the Mazar Multi-Party Security Commission. The meeting started at 11:00 a.m. and finished at 4:00 p.m. Two issues were prevalent: one was the resumption of the stalled disarmament process in Maymana in Faryab Province, which we spoke about at the last briefing and the other was the upcoming New Year celebrations on 21 March.

Regarding the disarmament, both Generals Dostum and Ata Mohammed expressed a desire to go to Maymana this week. Should this not be possible they have both stated that the disarmament will be resumed before the New Year celebrations. Both leaders have agreed that finalization of this exercise is now a priority as it will decrease tensions and pave the way for disarmament in Sar-i Pul Province as well as in Chimtal, Balkh and Chaharbolak districts of Balkh province.

During yesterday's meeting a decision was also taken to establish a 14-member Commission to address security in Mazar-e-Sharif for the upcoming New Year celebration. An extremely large number of visitors, particularly from Kabul, are expected to visit the Shrine of Ali in Mazar-i Sharif. The commission is comprised of all the major factions, the provincial Government, the municipality, UNAMA and the coalition. The 14 members will now fine-tune a basic plan that was already drawn up by the Mazar Multi-Party Commission.

Anti-Malaria Campaign in the South

More than one million people living in southern Afghanistan have benefited from a malaria control campaign in the region. The programme is being run by the non-governmental organization, Health Net International (HNI), in close collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the World Health Organization (WHO), other health sector NGOs and the private sector.

So far 14,701 mosquito bed nets treated with insecticide have been distributed to people living in high risk malarial areas in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces by mobile teams as part of the programme. Around 6,500 existing mosquito nets were retreated with insecticide. About 20 per cent of the population is using locally made nets and another 12.5 per cent are covered with nets from HNI.

The teams are also providing malaria diagnosis and disease prevention services and have reached almost 700,000 people in 10 districts in Kandahar, around 450,000 people in 6 malarial districts in Helmand, 110,000 in 2 districts in Uruzgan and 28,000 in one district of Zabul province.

Malaria prevalence surveys have been conducted with support from the Ministry of Public Health, WHO, Afghan Health and Development Services (AHDS), Ibn Sina and Mercy Corps International (MCI). The results will help with planning for current and future malaria control programmes.

FAO Rehabilitates Irrigation Infrastructure and Strengthens Water Resources Management

Today we would like to tell you about some projects to rehabilitate community-based irrigation as well as strengthen the Afghan Ministry of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment (MIWRE). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has started three projects to rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure and strengthen water resources management mainly in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Nangahar, and Herat.

As you know, besides the impact of drought, traditional surface and underground irrigation, rain-fed areas as well as pastures, suffered extensive damage and destruction by war. This has rendered their rehabilitation beyond the present capacity of communities. Emergency rehabilitation of traditional irrigation systems and secure water supply are therefore required to restore agricultural production and drinking water. And this is exactly what these projects aim to do.

Linked to that, on 23 February the MIWRE and FAO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). FAO is now responsible for reinforcing the provincial departments of the MIWRE in the eastern, southern and western zones. It will also provide equipment and training. To-date, about 85 engineers and technicians from the Ministries and non-governmental organizations have been trained. Another 24 employees are undergoing longer-term training. In some provinces, the irrigation departments have been renewed while more than 1,000 manuals on various water resources subjects have been translated into local languages.

Funding is being provided by Italy, Netherlands and Germany.

We have a press release at the side of the room with more details.

Carjacking in Paktika

On Friday at 12:50 p.m. eight armed men opened fire on a two-vehicle UN Convoy in Paktika, in the southeast, on its way from the village of Waza-Khan to Khair-Kot. The men who appeared on the road fired at the first vehicle, an unmarked hired car with two officials from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) and one national staff member of the World Food Programme (WFP) inside.

The second car, a UN vehicle (WFP) with three people in it (internationals), immediately turned around and headed back to Waza-Khan. Upon returning to the scene of the incident with the local authorities, they found the three occupants of the first car at the side of the road unhurt. The armed men reportedly threatened and harassed the MRRD and WFP employees before driving off in the car leaving the three original passengers behind.

We have since been informed by the WFP that the bullet-ridden car has been recovered and is now in Kabul. The perpetrators have not been caught and investigations are ongoing. Motives for the attack are unknown at this point.

Road movements in Paktika province from Waza Khan to Khair Kot have now been suspended until further notice.

Suspension of United Nations Road Trips

As we said at the last briefing we will try to keep you informed as best we can about areas where there are potentials risks as this is useful and precautionary information for you if you want to travel to file stories in and around the country.

Northern Region: Tensions in Gosfandi in Sar-i-Pul Province remain unsolved, and as we told you last week the suspension of road missions to that locale remain in place until further notice. You will recall, I said earlier that Sar-i-pul is one of the areas identified for disarmament by the Mazar Multi Party Security Commission.

Western Region: UN road Missions to the districts of Bala Margab and Gormach in Badghis Province are being evaluated on a day-to-day basis due to increased tensions.

Southern Region: Due to heightened tensions all road missions in the vicinity of Dilaram or Zaranj in Nimroz Province have been suspended until further notice.

The areas Southeast of Qalat in Zabul province are still suspended for UN missions until further notice. As we told you on Thursday this includes Shinkay, Nawbahar, Athgar and Shamulzai.

Road movement from Kandahar to Rambasi (Dand district) also remains suspended, due to an explosion and a recent attack on civilian and military vehicles recently.

Eastern Region: Team leaders are advised to be vigilant in the region. Road missions to Kunar and Nuristan are being cleared on a case-by-case day-to-day basis due to tensions.

All other roads are open throughout the country.

UNICEF-Year's First Polio Immunisations In Afghanistan To Start Today - Chulho Hyun, Communication Officer

Today marks the start of a vital, three-day immunisation campaign to protect millions of children in Afghanistan against the threat of polio, a joint operation between the Ministry of Health, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Between today and the 4th of March, teams of vaccinators and monitors will go from house to house and village to village in select areas of the country, to reach approximately 2.5 million children from newborns to five-year-olds. The health teams will be working to ensure that each child in that age bracket receives two drops of the Oral Polio Vaccine regardless of prior immunisation status. Families should keep all eligible children at home between today and this coming Tuesday so that the volunteers can reach the children easily.

This campaign is called the Sub-National Immunisation Days, or SNIDs, and it will cover parts of Afghanistan, which, in 2002, saw regular movement through, and settlement of returnee populations. These areas include Kabul City, all districts in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, and select districts of Farah (2), Nimroz (2), Uruzgan (1), Zabul (2), Kunduz (6), Takhar (6), Baghlan (6), Laghman (2), Nangarhar (7) and Kunar (5) Provinces.

In addition to the SNIDs, the Ministry of Health will conduct regular rounds of the National Immunisation Days, or NIDs, this year with support from the assistance community. The year's first NIDs round will be in mid-April.

Health officials in Afghanistan have been making significant strides in recent years toward the global goal of interrupting the transmission of the wild poliovirus in the country by 2002-2003. In each of the five rounds of NIDs conducted last year, the immunisation effort successfully reached 6 million children. There were 12 reported cases of polio last year, compared to 27 cases three years ago. There has been one reported case so far in 2003.

UNICEF provides technical assistance, vaccines, vaccine storage equipment, and supports the transportation of monitors and payment of incentives of vaccinators, among other activities of the ongoing campaign.

Members of the media who are interested in covering the immunisation activities are kindly requested to contact the UNICEF office in Kabul after today's briefing.