Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 09 Jan 2003

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TALKING POINTS
Update on Whooping Cough Outbreak in Badakshan

During the last briefing we informed you about the outbreak of Pertussis (whooping cough) which is threatening the lives of an estimated 40,000 infants and young children in the Darwaz district in Badakshan. We also told of an interagency task force led by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health operating from both Afghanistan and Tajikistan that was working around the clock to contain the disease and save these young lives.

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) told us that so far more than 500 children have been treated in two villages in Darwaz where an emergency clinic has been set up. Sufficient supplies of erythromycine and other antibiotic drugs, procured by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have now reached Darwaz to treat and protect those 40,000 children at risk. In addition 20 volunteers have been trained to administer vaccinations and have gone back to their communities to administer erythromycin to both those with whooping cough and as well as those at risk of infection. By providing preventive treatment to the whole population aged up to 15 years old further transmission can be stopped.

As of yesterday the efforts to tackle this outbreak were scaled up by two interagency teams who are currently en route bringing in extra supplies and human resources to affected villages from Kabul and Tajikistan . As we told you access to some of the remote villages in mountainous Badkashan is only possible from the Tajik border. The authorities in Tajikistan with the support of the United Nations there have taken concrete steps to help facilitate the cross border operation. The extra staff arriving today will assist with the training of further volunteers. The volunteers and medical staff will also help assess the extent of the outbreak. This additional support will also allow samples that have been collected in Darwaz to reach labs on time.

Update on the North

On 4 January 39 predominantly light weapons were collected from six villages (Khawja, Buchaqlik, Haidari Khana, Abduli and Yuztal) in Maymana district, Faryab province. As has become the practice the disarmament was supervised by a delegation of the Mazar Multi-Party Security Commission. This Commission, as you know, is integrated with representatives of the different factions. The weapons were registered and then returned to district military units of Jamiat and Jumbesh. The exercise followed an agreement that was reached between the Commission and provincial leaders in Maymana between 2 and 4 January.

As we said on Sunday on 4 January another delegation went to Charkhab and Qushomov in the Sholgara District of Balk Province. This took place following reports of tension and possible arms in the two villages. After the Security Commission met with commanders and elders it was revealed that that the two locations had not been entirely disarmed during weapons collection in November. Some 35 weapons were said to be still in the possession of commanders of various factions. On 7 January, five weapons out of 20 promised were collected. At a meeting held yesterday the Commission decided to invite the commanders still holding weapons to attend its future meetings and to ensure that they hand over their guns.

Still on the north: we would just like to draw your attention to a small detail, which I think gives you a good idea of the dimension with which we are dealing. As we also informed you at the last briefing, on 5 January the Commission sent a delegation to Piruz Nakhjir in Samangan Province to investigate tensions, which have arisen out of unresolved thefts. At a meeting, which involved the Governor of Piruz Nakhjir and elders, it was decided to address at least two of these thefts. One of these is a dispute over a 150 sheep and 3 horses that involves two local commanders (Jamiat and Jumbesh). This case will be adjudicated by the Commission next week, with support from the Governor of Piruz Nakhjir and the good offices of UNAMA in Mazar. The Governor will also address a second case involving two local commanders and the theft of a tractor. The Security Commission and UNAMA will observe this attempt to solve the problem

Robbery of NGO Office in Mazar-e-Sharif

Still on the North: there is one story here that I was quite shocked to learn about. It is a little bit old and you may already know about it. Earlier this year on 2 January, CESVI, an Italian NGO in Mazar-e-Sharif had its office broken into. A lot of money and equipment was stolen. The reason we are bringing this to your attention is because it involved the theft of a large sum of money - some $165,000. The NGO had this large amount for the procurement of non-food items (NFIs) for the winter programme and to assist the most vulnerable in that region [6,000 persons]. Of courser there is a proper investigation ongoing. We think that this kind of act is quite shocking in light of falling temperatures and the many efforts to address dire situations, which could be brought on by winter.

Update on National Winter Preparedness Efforts

As we reported in our last briefing, one form of assistance that is given to the most vulnerable groups in the ongoing winter plan is something we call cash for work projects. We would like to tell you a little bit more about these projects, which may be of interest to you.

The purpose of these activities is to make people self sufficient through the winter by enabling them to purchase the items they require to cover their basic winter needs. These projects were agreed in line with the government policy - while providing assisting to vulnerable people in the winter, cash for work projects should also inject money in the local economy.

The job opportunities are announced by the mosques and local Shuras . The daily pay is 70 Afghanis, which is slightly lower than the market rate of 90 Afghanis. This is actually done on purpose so that these projects can absorb those vulnerable persons who have been left out of the job market.

The duration of work is minimally two months. So far here in Kabul city 8000 people have benefited from these cash for work activities for winter. These projects usually involve rubble removal from destroyed houses, canal cleaning, stove production, and the production of quilts, and children clothes by women. There is also a gabion (wire mesh cage) making activity.

91,000 people are expected to benefit indirectly from these projects in Kabul City alone since it is estimated that 14,000 individuals from 14,000 families will be the one working and therefore their family members totaling some 91,000 will derive benefits.

Cash for work activities are currently going on in all 14 districts of the city. The projects are all implemented by NGOs, which include MEDAIR, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), Shelter for Life, Mercy Corps, Care, Caritas and Church World Service (CWS).

As you know, other cash for work activities are also going on across the country. These projects, however, happen throughout the country in the non-winter season as well.

Report on the Situation in Zabul

Some of you have seen media reports about security concerns in Zabul Province in the southeast. Yesterday, a mission comprised of representatives of UNAMA and NGOs operating in that province went on a fact-finding mission to Qalat City. The purpose was to discuss that issue with local authorities since it has affected aid agencies in the province. You may recall that back in November last year we reported on what was thought to be a serious humanitarian crisis in the region. There is a lot of ongoing work by different agencies and security was an issue that could have interrupted those efforts. We are now glad to inform you that in spite of security problems no aid organization has pulled out or suspended activities there.

This fact-finding mission has held meetings with the Governor of Zabul and they discussed what appropriate actions should be taken. It was agreed that that as a first step the local government will deploy armed security posts in those areas that are found to be strategic and more vulnerable to actions by bad elements. In addition, United Nations and NGO personnel such as drivers of vehicles will now have photo identity cards so that when stopped at checkpoints it can be ensured that they are bona fide employees. There will also be further contact between the agencies and the local security entities whenever there is travel on roads. As a result of the current security situation a total of 7 vehicles have been hijacked or stolen - five in Zabul and the other two in Ghazni. [So far three vehicles have been recovered]

Currently there are four active NGOs in the Province working on projects that I mentioned respond to the humanitarian needs. Those activities focus on; improving access to safe drinking water; improved access to production water by maintaining Kharizes (traditional irrigation systems); support to agriculture through the provision of seeds; improving and or increasing access to health services; creating opportunities for cash for work employment; as well as implementing traditional food for work employment for vulnerable communities.

Meeting on Drug Control

On Tuesday, 7 January, here in Kabul three was a meeting on drug control. This meeting involved Afghanistan, Iran, the United Kingdom, United Nations and the United States was invited to also participate in the discussions.

The participants highlighted the need to have a strong government infrastructure to deal with illicit drugs in Afghanistan. They stressed their readiness to support the Government in this process. They asked the Government to prepare a list of assistance needed for the Counter Narcotics Department of the National Security Council here in Kabul and its provincial offices. The Afghan authorities are also to come up with list identifying the number and the locations of the border control points to be built. Of course the international community is expected to provide support in implementation.

As a result of the talks on Tuesday, the first meeting of border control officials from the participating countries is scheduled to take place here in Kabul in a few weeks time. High-level meetings between the parties are expected to take place every six months.

Third Report of Monitoring Group

Some of you have contacted us yesterday with questions on a Monitoring Group report.

Here is the explanation: The security Council, through its resolution 1363 (2001) established a Monitoring Group of five experts to monitor the implementation of all the measures imposed by Council resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000), including arms embargoes, counter-terrorism and related legislation in view of the link to the purchase of arms and financing of terrorism, money laundering, financial transactions and drug trafficking.

This Monitoring Group coordinates a Sanctions Enforcement Support Team with expertise in areas such as customs, border security and counter-terrorism.

The Monitoring Group has issued three reports since its establishment. The most recent one came out on 4 December. It is a public document. As it is very long, we have brought you copies of the Executive Summary. If any of you want more information on the full report we will be glad to facilitate you.

Correction to UNIFEM Press Release

Last Sunday, based on a press release received from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) we told you about the launch of the Afghan Women Judges Association (AWJA) on 4 January. Since then UNIFEM has asked us to convey the following two points to you.

The AWJA has in fact existed for eight months and the event that occurred recently was a ceremonial launch to mark the start of the training programme on Legal Capacity Building of Judges and Lawyers. In addition, while Judge Marzia Basel is the Director of the Association she does not have any responsibility for programming. Her involvement with AWJA is personal and voluntary - not professional. Any enquires about programmes should therefore be directed to Judge Humma Alizoi, the Deputy Director of the AWJA who is responsible for such activities.

Questions and Answers

Q: Was the meeting on drug control organized by the National Security Council?

Spokesman: I did not say who organized it and I would have to check or refer you to the United Nations Drug Control Office. While I am not sure who organized it I am sure the Commission played a key role because within the Afghan Administration they are the institution that deals with this issue.

Q: Do you have the names of the NGOs involved with the cash for work projects and have those agencies started their activities here in Kabul as yet?

Spokesman: Yes they have started their projects already. In fact if any of you are interested what we can perhaps try to do is organize a visit to the projects. The NGOs are MEDAIR, ACTED, Shelter for Life, Mercy Corps, Care, Caritas and CWS.

Q: Do you have any more details about the NGO that was robbed in Mazar?

Spokesman: Yes...it took place on 2 January. The robbers entered the NGO compound and robbed the office of the money and radio equipment at gunpoint. They took money in both dollars and Afghan currency.

Q: Were there international staff in the office at the time?

Spokesman: Yes they were in the office.

Q: When did the incident take place?

Spokesman: I think it happened at around 6:00 p.m.

Q: Who will be providing security in Zabul?

Spokesman: Local security institutions - the Governor's Office, the police department and military garrisons - Afghan institutions doing their job.

Q: Do you know how many children have died so far from the whooping cough outbreak in Badakshan?

PIO UNICEF: The only confirmed number that we have based on an assessment from the WHO that confirms whooping cough as the cause of death, is 17 deaths. One of the very purposes of the mission that left Kabul this morning at 7:00 a.m., and should be in Faisabad by now, is to visit four affected villages. They will take with them medical professionals from the WHO, the Ministry of Health and the Aga Khan Development Network. One of their main purposes is to spend the next three weeks doing full investigations on all of the cases to get clinical evidence that it is indeed whooping cough. In the meantime the distribution of antibiotics and vaccinations is a precautionary measure while we wait for that investigation to take place. So at the moment we do not have confirmed numbers beyond the 17 for which there is clinical evidence.

Q: Are those 17 children only?

PIO: I just have a figure of 17 deaths - I do not know whether they are children or adults. Usually whooping cough affects children more than adults.