Our guests today are Engineer Salimee, CoAR (Coordination of Afghan Relief) and Mr. Raza from the Afghan Civil Society Forum. They represent a consortium of 13 NGOs which are part of the Afghan Civil Society Forum which is carrying out civic education on the constitution in Afghanistan.
Public consultations on the Constitution in the regions
Today two teams of the Constitutional Review Commission will arrive in Kunduz and Mazar for carrying out public consultations on the Constitution. Each team is comprised of three commissioners, 1 rapporteur and there are security guards provided by the Ministry of Interior. These teams will join the staff of the Commission in the regions who have been carrying out public education.
This follows the first deployment of public consultation teams to Jalalabad, Gardez and Bamyan on Tuesday, June 10. By the end of this month all ten teams will be conducting public consultation in the regions of Afghanistan and in Pakistan and Iran for refugees in those countries. Public consultations are expected to go on for some two months.
Another battalion of the Afghan National Army graduates
The first mechanized battalion of the Afghan National Army is graduating this morning at the Kabul Military Training Centre.
It's the third battalion of the third brigade which is the Quick Reaction Force. Last month saw the first armoured battalion being activated and today it's the turn of the first mechanized battalion.
Around 5,000 soldiers have now been through the ten week training course for the Afghan National Army.
It's the ninth battalion [of the Central Corps] to graduate.
Renewed problem with landmines due to heavy rains, melting snow and mudslides
Heavy rains, melting snow, floods and mudslides in the north east of the country have resulted in the movement of landmines onto or near roads causing a potential danger to people traveling in the area.
Work is starting today to clear parts of the road between Khost Wa Firing to Narin in Baghlan province where landmines have moved near to the road. Teams from the United Nations Mine Action Centre and demining non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be carrying out the mine clearance there.
There is also a risk that landmines have moved onto the Jarekhosk Road also in Baghlan province and onto the Gazastan Road between Takhar and Badakhshan provinces.
UNMACA's office in the north east estimates that around 500 m2 of land on the edges the roads will need to be cleared.
This area of the north east is heavily mined with both anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines because it was the frontline in the war for a long time.
Kabul-Kandahar Road - demining work resumes
Demining work has resumed along parts of the Kabul to Kandahar road after extra security measures were put in place. The situation continues to be assessed and further demining will resume if conditions are considered safe enough for the demining teams.
World Food Programme, Alejandro Chicheri, Public Affairs Officer - Food Aid Forum
Today WFP has invited representative of the Afghan Transitional Administration, UN humanitarian agencies, NGO partners and donors to participate in a half a day meeting at the Food Aid Forum to talk about the preliminary finds of the ongoing 2003 Crop Assessment; brief highlights of the EC study on food utilization, commercial food imports and the impact on vulnerability and prices; and an update on upcoming assessments.
The other important issues that will be discuss in this meeting are the cash-based programmes of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and its counterparts. Also the meeting will help with an understanding of the Afghan Government policy on commercial imports and food aid imports.
Hector Maletta from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has just come from the Food Aid Forum and he has more details on the Crop Assessment which FAO with the Ministry of Agriculture and WFP is carrying out.
Food and Agriculture Organization, Hector Maletta, Senior Food Advisor - 2003 Crop Assessment
At the request of the Government of Afghanistan, FAO and WFP will jointly carry out the 2003/2004 Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Afghanistan that will start on June 16. This mission takes place every year to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the food situation including production, markets, consumption and vulnerability and to recommend a food balance for the country, to identify vulnerable people and to prepare for food assistance during the coming 12 months. The mission will remain in the country until the beginning of July and a report will be released in Rome by the end of July.
I have two pieces of news which are very encouraging. One of them regards the enormous increase in capacity in the country to carry out their own crop assessments. FAO has been working in the Ministry of Agriculture to enable the Ministry to produce accurate and timely information about the crops. We have developed several components, agro-meteorology, crop monitoring in the field, periodic surveys and crop assessment to assess the expected yield of the harvest. So this year the mission will be a very small operation, only to check the information provided by the country, as is normally done in other countries. In the past there was almost no information in the country, the infrastructure for information, for meteorology had disappeared so most of the work was done by this special mission. This year the Ministry of Agriculture is doing a crop assessment, they have conducted, with FAO assistance, a comprehensive survey all over the country during the winter first and now in the pre-harvest assessment that will continue until September, because as you know there are winter crops that are harvested more or less now in the lowlands and there are spring crops planted much later which are harvested in September and there are second crops being planted recently to be harvested later. So the process is ongoing but this is very encouraging news.
The second encouraging news is that we expect a very good harvest, probably the best in 25 years for different reasons. One of them, the main one is sustained and good precipitation in almost all the country from December up to now, that allow farmers to plant a much bigger area than before. Especially in the rain-fed area planting has increased by a large amount, also due to the larger diffusion of improved varieties of grain that allow for much higher yields especially with good rain and also with high and almost universal application of fertilizer in the irrigated parts because in rain-fed parts the fertilizer doesn't work very well. Another factor is the increasing land utilization. After so many years of drought, the land has been resting so the farmers have planted in many areas that they don't normally plant. So the extent of the area farmed is much bigger than before. So we expect a very good harvest in all the country, anyway the northern part will have more of a surplus and in some parts of the south there will still be a deficit regarding local population, but the country as a whole will be in a much better situation.
Questions and Answers
Question: You told us last Sunday that the United Nations would be reviewing the security measures on Monday. Have there been any changes in security measures?
Spokesman: No, we have not changed any of our regular security patterns. However the point that I made last Sunday continues [to be valid] which is that we all have to be very aware of the environment in which we live and in which we work and take into consideration these concerns of security in all of our movements. So I wouldn't have any new announcements to make regarding security.
Question: Can the UN confirm that there has been spraying of opium poppy crops in some areas like Kunar, using helicopters?
Spokesman: I've seen media reports on it. We do not have direct involvement in this eradication programme and so I don't have anything to tell you on this. If you have any questions on this I suggest you ask those who allegedly did the spraying but we don't have any information regarding that. [The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has no evidence to support allegations that poppy fields have been sprayed.]