Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 06 Feb 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
Industrial explosion in UNDP Compound

Yesterday (Wednesday 5 February)) at about 2pm, there was an explosion in the UNDP Compound, which is right behind UNAMA Compound B.

An investigation by UNDP Security revealed that it was an industrial accident. Sparks from an acetylene welding torch ignited the fumes from one of the petrol tanks which had been emptied the week before.

Work was going on to remove the disused petrol and diesel underground tanks near the entrance to the UNDP Compound. The contractor was trying to cut through reinforced steel in the concrete cover of the tanks. The fumes and spilt petrol around the disused tank caught fire, which sounded like an explosion. The Fire Brigade was called and assisted in putting out the fire.

The blast shattered two windows of a nearby vehicle belonging to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the windows of a nearby guard house.

No one was injured and it is being treated as a workplace accident. Work on removing the tanks has been stopped and steps will be taken to ensure when it continues, this does not happen again.

I went there myself and indeed it was just a minor accident and fortunately no one was hurt.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - 5,000 Kuchi families targeted for their survival

As we speak now FAO is signing an agreement with the Afghan Government. The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization are signing today a project which is worth 398,000 US dollars. It will benefit about 5,000 Kuchi families which is around 57,000 people.

The project aims at ensuring the survival of their livestock during the critical period of winter and early spring. This is the critical period for the nutrition of these animals when there is a scarcity of animal feed and many of the animals are heavily pregnant.

An emergency 250 kg concentrated animal feed will be given to each family. This will ensure the survival of 20 - 25 ewes over a period of two months, assuming a little natural grazing. For this additional feed to be efficiently utilized the stock must be in good health and not burdened by parasites. Therefore assistance with disease and parasite control is an essential complement to the winter emergency feeding and for that reason veterinary prophylactic treatment against endemic diseases and internal/external parasites is also going to be provided as part of this project.

There are important concentrations of Kuchi winter camps in southwest Afghanistan especially in Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand provinces, which will be the target of the activities. The beneficiaries will be selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in collaboration with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the Ministry of Frontiers and Tribal Affairs.

FAO - emergency monitoring and control of locusts in northern Afghanistan

Still in the field of agriculture, there is another very important agreement being signed this morning, this time by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and the FAO on the emergency monitoring and control of locusts in northern Afghanistan.

A US$391,000 project will mitigate locust damage to food crops and, to a lesser extent, to pastures, during the forthcoming locust campaign in Northern Afghanistan. The direct beneficiaries are the farmers and livestock owners of the infested areas who stand to lose their crops.

Throughout the locust campaign, from March to June, a survey and monitoring of the locust infested areas will be carried out in order to carefully assess the current locust situation. In addition, the project will reestablish the FAO system of survey and reporting, using standardized report forms and building a computerized database. A medium-term plan for a sustainable locust management strategy will also be drawn up for consideration by stakeholders. On-the-spot training will be given to technical and field staff in survey reporting and the safe and effective use of the pesticides and equipment provided. Training will be given to farmers in mechanical control.

The semi-arid areas of Northern Afghanistan are the traditional habitat for two locust species: the Moroccan (Dociostaurus maroccanus) and the Italian Locust (Calliptamus italicus). Locust infestations occur from time to time representing a threat to pasture and cereal crops and causing significant damage. The scale and intensity of the infestations are variable from one year to another and outbreaks can last several years. Last year FAO launched an 850,000 US dollar campaign to combat the worst locust plague to hit Afghanistan for the last thirty years. The exceptionally high locust population, which threatened over 200,000 hectares of agricultural land and over 70 per cent of crop production in the north, was the result of two years without control and favourable breeding conditions created by the drought. Three out of the nine northern provinces, Baghlan, Samangan and Kunduz, were particularly hard hit. But the prompt action by the Ministries here along with FAO, NGOs and other UN agencies were able to control the locusts in just under 240,000 hectares of productive land. The overall losses in the region were estimated not to have exceeded seven per cent of the whole area.

Report on Opium Economy in Afghanistan

On Monday the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime launched "The Opium Economy in Afghanistan: An International Problem" in New York. The study was written by UNODC's research section in Vienna, Austria. We have copies of the Executive Summary and the press release prepared by UNODC in Vienna and which is available here for you. Unfortunately we do not have copies of the report here but it is available and can be downloaded from the UNODC web site:

Since the study was finalized last October there have been a number of measures taken by the Afghan Government with the assistance of the Office on Drugs and Crime, the Governments of the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy and with other donors. More details on that are available in a Note to Correspondents.

For further information about the study you can contact UNODC's Research Section in Vienna, the contact details are on the bottom of the press release.

Disarmament in the North set to resume

We reported to you on 23 January that the disarmament process had stalled. Negotiations to resume the stalled disarmament process in the north have been going on this week and disarmament is set to resume in Maymana in Faryab province. But these talks are still ongoing.

The negotiations are led by the Head of the Afghan Government's Disarmament Commission and also Deputy Defence Minister, General Atiqullah Baryali and involved the Special Representative of the President in the North and Deputy Defence Minister, General Abdul Rashid Dostum from Jumbesh and the Commander in Chief of the 7th Army Corps, General Ustad Ata Mohammed from Jamiat.

Message by Mr. Brahimi on the occasion of Eid-ul-Adha

Eid-ul-Adha is next week. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Mr. Brahimi has recorded a message to the Afghan people which will be broadcast on Radio Afghanistan's programme 'The World and Afghanistan' on Friday on 105.5AM. Those of who are interested can contact Sultan Baheen in my office to get a copy of the digital recording. We also have the text available in English, Dari and Pashto.

In the message Mr. Brahimi says: "For 23 years the Moslem people of Afghanistan have suffered from war and injustice. Today they are determined to protect peace and national unity for their children. They are determined to work together to create prosperity. They are determined to work together to adopt a new Constitution which will guarantee protection for their national independence, their territorial integrity, as well as genuine equality between all the people of Afghanistan with no difference between rich or poor, with no difference between man or woman, with no difference between old and young and with no difference between the various ethnic groups of Afghanistan."

He goes on to say: "We, in the United Nations, also take this opportunity to renew our commitment to help you, our Afghan brethren, to achieve these noble objectives. I assure you that all my colleagues in the United Nations, Afghans and non-Afghans as well as myself, shall spare no effort to serve the people of Afghanistan and support all your dedicated efforts to rebuild your country."

As I said this note is available today and as we're talking about Eid, just to note that it will be a United Nations holiday on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

CORRECTION: Armed robbery of Demining team in Farah province

We have a correction to a note at the last briefing when we told you about a demining team which was the victim of an armed robbery in Farah Province. The vehicle was from the non-governmental organization (NGO) - the Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) and not from the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) as we announced on Sunday.

Also we can add that there were six Afghan staff of the NGO in the vehicle at the time of the armed robbery.

UNICEF - Renewed drive for girls education in Afghanistan takes off with first airlifts of school supplies, Edward Carwadine, Communication Officer

Six weeks before Afghanistan's children return to the classroom for the start of their second full year of learning, the Afghan Ministry of Education is taking delivery of new school materials supplied by UNICEF as part of the Back to School campaign.

The first of a total of 315 tonnes of "Schools in a Box" began arriving in Kabul this week as part of seven planned airlifts; over the coming days 782 kits, each containing enough classroom stationery and basic materials for 80 children, will arrive from UNICEF's Supply Division in Copenhagen. This delivery will contribute to a total of 3,200 tonnes of school supplies due to start pouring into Afghanistan in the next few weeks.

UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to ensure supplies are available in 2003 for a total of 4.5 million girls and boys in Afghanistan's schools, with a specific focus on increasing the enrolment of girls at primary level. The "Schools in a Box" will be forwarded to provincial distribution points around the country, while next month some 260,000 kits containing teaching and learning materials for teachers and pupils will be packed at the new Ministry of Education Logistics Centre in Kabul and delivered to schools nationwide in time for the start of term. The Centre itself was rehabilitated by UNICEF during 2002, and now forms the supply hub for educational materials in Afghanistan.

The total cost of the supply operation for Back to School 2003 is estimated at US$ 15 million.

The next scheduled airlift of Schools in a Box is due to arrive at Kabul airport on Saturday 8 February. Media interested in covering the arrival and unloading of the cargo plane should contact UNICEF for final details of arrival time.

Questions and Answers

Question: On the disarmament, you're in the process of negotiating, no actual disarmament has taken place?

The Spokesman: They are negotiating. In the north at this point no disarmament has taken place. It may resume at any time but at this point, as of this morning, no.

Question: Do you have any figures about how many children are waiting to go to school?

UNICEF: In terms of the number of children, as everyone knows here getting accurate data about the number of children who should be in school has been quite difficult. But we estimate that there is a school age population, a primary school age population of about four million children. Last year over two million children went back to school at primary school level out of a total of three million children. So obviously the large majority of children are now attending school but from UNICEF's perspective and from the point of view of the government itself that clearly isn't enough - we want every child to be involved in some form of education either through the formal school system or through more non-formal lessons. So our aim is to try and get as many children back into school as possible. The target for this year, as I said, is about four and a half million children and we will continue efforts working through community leaders, with communities themselves and education officials to get the message across that education is valuable for every child, particularly for girls, who for obvious reasons haven't benefited from education in recent years. So our effort is to get as many children into school as possible.

Question: What is the most pressing concern or challenge?

UNICEF: There are a number of challenges clearly. To name just a few, one of the problems we had last year was that the back-to-school campaign was more successful than we anticipated and more children went back to school than we planned for so there were shortages of supplies. This year we hope that, over the new few months, we will be able to make sure that every child who is going back to school gets the materials that they want. That's a big challenge, just the logistics of getting those supplies into place. The second big area is the actual physical capacity of the education system, ensuring that we have more classroom space available that we rehabilitate and reconstruct more schools. There are a number of NGOs involved in school reconstruction. UNICEF is aiming to rehabilitate at least 200 primary schools this year to provide more classroom space and we are also working in partnership with the UN Office of Project Services (UNOPS) to ensure that more schools are reconstructed as well. So that's another big challenge. Finally I would say obviously the quality of education is important as well. Last year was very much a focus on getting children back into the classroom. This year we have to ensure that the education they receive is of a very high quality. So we will be investing from our side at UNICEF in supporting the government on things like teacher training and the development of the curriculum so we ensure that the actual learning that the children are getting is of high quality, of good value and that that is recognized by families so children remain in the classroom and don't start dropping out. So I think that gives you some idea of the many challenges that we face.

Question: Could you tell us about the robbery at UNICEF? How much was stolen and what else was taken?

UNICEF: We did issue information to the media a couple of days ago. Very briefly the facts as they stand are that there was a break-in at UNICEF's office on Monday night. We understand some cash was taken. We cannot confirm the exact amount because there is an ongoing investigation led by the Afghan police and UN security and those details have not been shared with us, as is normal during a criminal investigation. All I can confirm is that there was a break-in, we understand some cash was taken. The good news is that the office was closed at the time and there were no injuries, nobody was hurt in the incident. That's all the information I have and I cannot add anything more to that.

Question: On the back-to-school campaign, how do you intend to reach the most rural areas?

UNICEF: We work through the Ministry of Education, in terms of our education programme. Basically our programme aims to reach every part of Afghanistan, every province, every district and we do that by working very closely with the Ministry of Education here at the central level but more importantly at the provincial and the district level. We have very good working relationships with our colleagues at the district education office. In terms of the distribution of supplies, that is done very much through the Ministry of Education. They are responsible for setting out district plans to ensure that all schools in every part of the country even the most remote parts should receive materials. To give you a quick example, a few weeks ago I was up in Parwan, in one of the mountainous areas of Parwan they were actually having to use donkeys and horses to get school materials to a Kuchi community that wanted its girls to go back to school this year. So there are number of ways we can get out to those rural areas. Certainly our aim is make sure every child has the right to education and is given the supplies and has access to educational facilities regardless of whether it is in an urban area or in one of the most difficult to reach parts of the country.