Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 12 Jan 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
Update on Whooping Cough Outbreak in Badakshan

At last Sunday's briefing we informed you about the scaling up of joint government/interagency efforts to arrest the spread of pertussis (whooping cough) in Badakshan. We have also been telling you about some of the logistic constraints that are hampering those efforts, which are taking place right now in remote areas of Darwaz District. Access to these mountainous locales in some cases is only possible by either helicopter or via Tajikistan if there is an official crossing point.

We learnt this morning from our WHO colleague, Dr. Jon Fleerackers in the remote mountain village of Maymay, that he is awaiting the arrival of another colleague, Kayhan Natiq, an Afghan Doctor with the WHO, who left Nusai -- the main city of Darwaz - on foot early yesterday morning. Maymay is near to the Tajik border and access is only possible by helicopter. There are also no functioning main or secondary roads between the two locations due to mountainous terrain and snow. Dr. Natiq is expected to arrive in Maymay at about 2:00 p.m. today and immediately begin providing additional support to a crucial round-the-clock operation.

There are also communication constraints due to the remoteness of some of the areas. This will hinder the flow of information to UNAMA. Nevertheless, we will update you as we get the news. For now the WHO has told us that a mobile clinic was set up in Maymay on Friday and that 10 volunteers have already been trained. Those persons are now administering the antibiotic drug ethromycine to anyone up to the age of 15 and anyone older who shows symptoms of whooping cough. Some 332 patients have been treated so far. According to the WHO, since their arrival in Maymay there have been two deaths -- both children. Based on reports we can also confirm that the outbreak started approximately two weeks ago, which is why the mortality rate is low. According to the WHO, the taskforce has arrived just in time to prevent further complications such as pneumonia, which can take the lives of many children.

We also have reports that in the village of Paharok, near Nusai there have been 10 deaths - all children under the age of three -- and 177 cases of whooping cough diagnosed. The taskforce there has seen 67 families so far. WHO states that the onset of the disease there goes back two months, which is why there is a higher mortality rate. The WHO also informed us that two members of the Ministry of Health have also been deployed to the village of Kufob also in the mountains near to Maymay.

The target now is to treat all those either at risk or infected; train other volunteers; establish the number of overall deaths in Darwaz and; keep accurate records of the distribution of ethromycine. The United Nations Joint Logistics Control (UNJLC) also told us this morning that another urgent priority is get samples collected out through Tajikistan for analysis in labs and to map helicopter routes for extremely remote sometimes unlisted locations.

Winter-Coal Distribution

Continuing with our series on winter preparedness - today we focus on coal. The first delivery of 7,000 metric tonnes of coal is being distributed in the North, Central Highlands and the Central areas of Afghanistan as they are priority regions for winter.

These 7000 tonnes will cover 35,000 families (about 200,000 persons in total) with each beneficiary family receiving 200 kilos of coal. Winter plans call for delivery of up to a 27,000 metric tones of coal to 135,000 families (about 800,000 people).

The coal procured for the winter programme beneficiaries is being mined in Pul-i-Kumri mines in the Hindu Kush Mountains in northeastern Afghanistan. It is then being delivered by road to different destinations.

The main funding agencies for coal programme are OFDA (Office of Disaster Assistance, USA), European Community Humanitarian Office and the International Organization of Migration (IOM). The distribution of coal, outside from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNAMA, is done by about seven major non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Media Opportunity - Cash for Work Projects

We informed you in our last briefing about cash for work activities in Central area. We would like to announce a media opportunity in three locations in Kabul city that will be of your interest.

First there is Carpentry Workshop run by the NGO ACTED NGO in District 3 which is producing doors and windows which will be distributed as non-food Items (NFIs). Second there is Women's Centre run by MEDAIR in District 8 which producing quilts/ children cloths for winter. Finally there is either Karize (underground waterway) repair or canal cleaning by Mercy Corps in District 5.

Those who are interested in visiting those projects, can meet in front of UNAMA compound B, on Monday, 13 January, at 9:00 a.m. Please contact our colleague Gayane Afrikian after this briefing for more details and conformation of your participation.

New Agricultural Information and Early Warning System to Help Afghanistan

An agricultural information and early warning system is currently being established that will soon help the Afghan Government to monitor crops and at the same time step up its efforts to increase food security. Afghanistan's Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and the Ministry of Reconstruction and Rural Development will oversee the project. Support is being provided by the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The Ministry of Agriculture has selected six agricultural research locations (Kabul, Kunduz, Baghlan, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad), where complete agro-meteorological stations will be set up. These stations will provide information (on rainfall, air and soil temperature, humidity, wind speed, radiation as well as snow and frost coverage. In addition, some 60 gauges are being installed countrywide to measure precipitation. Training will be given on the installation of rain gauges and rain observation. The trainees will become part of fully operational Afghan agro-meteorological service in Afghanistan.

FAO also tells us that a survey on food and agriculture, which will be completed at the end of this month, is taking place in more than 500 villages. According to the FAO this assessment will provide both an updated measurement of the 2001-2002 crop season after the recent harvest of the spring crops; as well as a forecast of cultivated areas and cropping patterns for the 2002-2003 season. The survey will cover all agricultural zones in over 100 selected districts and will involve all provincial ministerial offices as well as the FAO and WFP. The FAO states that, "The system will develop increasingly accurate crop forecasts". It will also give timely predictions about food shortages as well as information about agricultural practices and the food security situation of rural households. This in turn will contribute to improving food security throughout the country."

We have a press release available for you at the back of the room.

SRSG Congratulates Authorities on Progress on Security Sector Reform

Yesterday the Afghan Defense Commission met here in Kabul and announced the creation of four commissions necessary for the establishment of the new Army as well as demobilization, reintegration and disarmament. These commissions were called for in the presidential decree of 1 December on the establishment of the new army. At the end of the Defense Commission meeting, chaired by President Hamid Karzai, representatives of the international community were invited to join. The President briefed them on their deliberations.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Lakhdar Brahimi, took the floor and said that the deciions taken were the first step in the implementation of the 1 December decree. He congratulated Afghan officials and wished them every success on the vital work they will be undertaking. He also reaffirmed the commitment of the international commitment to work with the Defense Commission to build the new national army that will provide the security the Afghan people aspire to and deserve.

The Defense Commission was established by President Karzai at the Loya Jirga last year. It is chaired by him and in addition to government ministers, including the Minister of Defense, Afghan regional and factional leaders are members of the Commission.

SRSG Meets Constitution Drafting Committee

The Constitutional Loya Jirga is expected to be held during the first half of October. Vice-President Naematullah Shahrani, Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Commission, made the announcement yesterday, during a briefing to Kabul representatives of the international community on developments in the constitutional process.

He also said that the preliminary draft of the new constitution is expected to be ready by March. Wide consultations with civil society and experts in all 32 provinces as well as among Afghans in other countries will follow. A final draft is expected to be ready by October, which will be submitted to the Constitutional Loya Jirga for adoption.

Professor Shahrani also announced that President Karzai is working on the establishment of the Constitutional Commission, which will absorb the Drafting Commission. He also asked for donor support for their work, noting that the Commission's budget of $2,8 million dollars does not include the future Loya Jirga.

The Constitution Drafting Commission was inaugurated on 3 November. Its membership consists of nine legal scholars and jurists. UNAMA, with the support of UNDP, will be responsible for coordinating technical and financial inputs to this process. Addressing the commissioners, SRSG Brahimi, said that the work of the "Commission is vital for the consolidation of peace in Afghanistan" and that they will have to work very hard to meet the October deadline they imposed upon themselves.

Professor Shahrani said that the future constitution would be based on Islamic principles, Afghan legal traditions as well as international norms and standards. Hopefully, he said, the new constitution will move the country away from isolation and show the world that Afghanistan wants to be integrated into the international community.

SRSG's Trip

SRSG Brahimi, leaves Kabul this afternoon for visits to a number of countries.

First he goes to France, where he will participate in the Eleventh International Aix-en-Provence Encounter, organized by the University of Law, Economy and Sciences of the Aix-en-Provence University. This year's encounter is on "the United Nations and Afghanistan." Mr. Brahimi will deliver the opening speech.

From France he goes to Washington DC and New York, in the USA. At the American capital city, he will meet with senior US government officials and will also receive the Georgetown University Jit Trainor Award for diplomatic achievements.

While at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Brahimi will brief the Security Council and have meetings with the Secretary-General and other senior UN personnel.

From NY, he will fly to Moscow where he will hold meetings with senior Russian Federation officials, led by Foreign Minister Ivanov.

Mr. Brahimi is expected to be back in Kabul at the beginning of February.

Questions and Answers

In answer to a question on the defence commission meeting -- were there any concrete steps taken? - the Spokesman said that the Defense Commission had established four commissions, as called for by the 1 December Presidential decree: the demobilization commission whose chair will be Vice-President Khalili and the vice-chair Minister Pashto, of Housing and Urban Planning; the disarmament commission, chaired by general Barialay; the army recruitment commission, chaired by General Zadran; and the commission for the recruitment and training of army officers, which will be chaired by general Wardak.