Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 15 Jun 2003

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
TALKING POINTS
Reports of high levels of malaria in the Western region

An assessment mission from the Afghan authorities, the World Health Organization (WHO) the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and several non-governmental organizations has gone to investigate reports of a high number of cases of malaria in Karukh district in Herat province and Shahrak district in Ghor province.

The initial assessment showed that the scale of Malaria is double the number of cases reported in the same period last year. This is thought to be because of an increase in the amount of stagnant water in the two districts. The type of malaria is not fatal.

The Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) is working in Karukh district with its mobile team and the NGO, Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA) is working in Shahrak.

The level of cases is being monitored but it is not considered to be an outbreak situation at the moment.

In the West generally the level of malaria is quite low in comparison to the north east and the eastern provinces where the highest number of cases occur. It is currently the season for the non-fatal type of malaria (which runs from April until August) and the potentially fatal type occurs in Afghanistan from August until December.

Afghanistan has one of the largest bed-net programmes in the world and more than one million people in southern Afghanistan have already benefited. Mosquito bed nets treated with insecticide are distributed to people living in high risk malarial areas and existing nets are retreated with insecticide.

WHO is working with the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the NGO, Health Net International (HNI) in close collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on community-based projects against malaria in the east. WHO is also involved in training doctors and medical professors in dealing with malaria.

World Day to combat desertification and drought

Next Tuesday - 17 June - is the world Day to combat desertification and drought both of which pose an ever-increasing threat to the world including Afghanistan.

In his message for the day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, will say: "Human activities such as overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices, along with climate change, are turning once fertile soils into unproductive and barren patches of land. Arable land per person is shrinking throughout the world, threatening food security, particularly in poor rural areas, and triggering humanitarian and economic crises."

Afghanistan has of course suffered from both drought and desertification.

Desertification is one of the most acute environmental problems in Afghanistan according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In its environmental assessment report published earlier this year, UNEP made recommendations on proper management of water resources, reforestation and others aimed at stopping the loss of vegetation and preventing further desertification.

Presentation of pre-harvest assessment at Ministry of Agriculture

More details about the pre-harvest assessment in Afghanistan carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (MAAH) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will be presented to the monthly agricultural coordination meeting tomorrow (Monday 16 June).

Experts from FAO and the European Union will present the forecast for the 2003 harvest at the meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Conference Room which will be chaired by the Deputy Minister, Engineer Mohamad Sharif.

[After the briefing FAO informed us that at some point in the near future they are willing to make formal presentation to the media on the pre-harvest assessment if the press so requires.]

Afghan Film Director to receive UNESCO's Fellini Medal

The Afghan film director, Siddiq Barmak whose feature film was recently acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival, will receive an award from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris tomorrow (16 June). Mr. Barmak will receive UNESCO's Fellini Silver Medal from the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura at the preview screening of his film, Osama.

The ceremony will also be attended by the Afghan Tranistional Authority's Minister for Information and Culture, Sayed Makhdoum Raheen, former Prince Mirwais Zahir and the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg.

Barmak's film, Osama tells the story of an adolescent girl who disguises herself as a boy to escape the intolerable conditions inflicted on women by the Taliban regime.

The film screening at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris also coincides with the first plenary session of the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage.

The session will bring together 40 experts and representatives of Member States and will discuss issues about preserving and protecting Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage including emergency conservation of the Jam minaret, rehabilitation of the Kabul Museum and preservation of the Bamyan Buddhas site.

Announcement

There will be the inauguration ceremony of the Japan Social Development Ufnd in Bamyan this coming Thursday at 8 o'clock in the morning. Japanese Ambassador along with the Afghan ministers will hold an opening ceremony of a school in Shebar district which is 35 km outsite Bamyan city and which is funded by this Japanese Social Development fund which established by the government in the year 2000 to support activities which directly responds to the needs of the poor and vulnerable groups. This fund is administered by the World Bank. The fund has about 2 million US dollars.

If you would like to go to the ceremony on Thursday, please contact our colleague from the World Bank who can give you more details on it.

ICG report on Constitutional process in Afghanistan

We appreciate the concern expressed in the report on a number of issues, particularly on the security situation in the country and its possible impact on the constitution-making process. However, we disagree with some of the report's assertions. We also note that some of the points raised are uninformed or ill informed - had the ICG researcher asked UNAMA (or the Afghan Constitutional Review Commission), he would have avoided serious factual errors as well as making recommendations which already are being/have been acted upon. The report also makes premature conclusions on processes that have hardly started. It is particularly regrettable that the report seems to ignore the preeminent role played by the Constitutional Review Commission in the Constitution-making process and the tremendous amount of work already undertaken by its Secretariat.

Maki Shinohara, UNHCR spokesperson - Tripartite with Iran

Tomorrow, there will be a signature of a Tripartite Agreement on voluntary return of Afghans from Iran between the governments of Afghanistan, Iran and UNHCR. Afghan and UNHCR delegations are leaving today for Tehran led by Deputy Minister of Refugee and Repatriation Mr. Giasi and UNHCR's Chief of Mission Fillipo Grandi.

The new Tripartite Agreement is a follow-up to last year's agreement signed in March 2002. This time, the parties have agreed to continue assisting the voluntary repatriation of Afghans until 2005, during which time there will be no more negotiation on the Agreement itself but parallel bilateral discussions held regularly between the governments at ministerial levels to address concrete issues of return.

The agreement also refers to a new system to resolve commercial disputes between Afghan refugees and local Iranians. Legal Dispute Committee, composed of Iranian authorities, UNHCR and local judges, set up in Mashad has proven to be quite successful in resolving issues like insurance disputes and debt recovery. Iranian Government has recognized this success and has agreed to extend this mechanism to other regions in Iran. UNHCR is particularly grateful for this development. As obstacles to return for some Afghan refugees in Iran are those of commercial or business in nature, this is one step forward in resolving these types of obstacles.

With this Agreement with Iran and one with Pakistani signed this March, we now have solid commitments in the region to continue assisting the Afghans returning voluntarily until 2005. This would allow the returns to be gradual so as not to overwhelm the fragile economy of Afghanistan. We are very much grateful for these countries that allow Afghans themselves to decide on the timing of return, at least for the next two years. UNHCR hopes that other countries would also respect the voluntary nature of return.

UNHCR assisted some 46,600 Afghan refugees returning voluntarily from Iran this year. The total number of assisted returns from Iran since the repatriation operation began last March is 306,000, while another 154,500 Afghans have returned on their own.

Chulho Hynn, Unicef - Ministry of Health starts initiative to protect and promote breastfeeding in Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Ministry of Health, with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), is embarking on the development of a national code to protect future generations of mothers and their children from undue commercial pressures to use breast-milk substitutes.

As a first step, an awareness-raising workshop is being held in Kabul from 14-16 June on the "International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes." Organized by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, the workshop is drawing the participation of representatives of Government Ministries (including Justice, Women's Affairs, Religious Affairs, and Trade), as well as the WHO, FAO and national and international NGOs. Ensuring compliance with the International Code at the national level will also include the adoption of legislation at the national level.

That the Ministry is placing this issue high on its agenda is commendable, and an indication that the Government of Afghanistan is moving beyond short-term emergency programmes, to tackle key developmental issues facing the country.

The main goal of the International Code, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981, is to stop the promotion and advertising of artificial feeding products like infant formula, bottles and teats. Formula-fed infants face an increased risk of illness and death due to diarrhoea and respiratory infections, and it is therefore vital that parents are not persuaded to give up breastfeeding through advertising, free samples or other promotional tactics.

Efforts to protect and promote breastfeeding, the right of every woman, are clearly linked to addressing the issue of infant and childhood diseases, which create a heavy burden on both families and the health system. Breastfeeding provides the baby with the mother's anti-bodies, thereby protecting and helping the infant's immune system to develop. Studies have shown that a formula-fed baby has 17 times the risk of developing diarrhoea, and almost four times the risk of dying from pneumonia. Preliminary results of a joint study by the Ministry, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released last month, show that diarrhoea is the leading cause of death among children in Afghanistan.

[Introduction of Guest Speaker. David Clark is in Kabul to assist the Transitional Administration to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in Afghanistan. An international lawyer, he has been working with UNICEF's New York Headquarters since 1995, providing legal assistance on issues around infant and young child feeding to Governments and UNICEF Offices worldwide. Much of his work has focused on the implementation of the International Code. Mr. Clark is a native of Scotland.]

Questions and Answers

Question: You said that there are errors in the ICG report. Can you elaborate more on that?

Spokesman: I can mention for instance that in the report it says that there are scarce funds for public education and the public consultation process. In fact there are close to 2 million US dollars set aside for these activities. One million of which is allocated for public education activities alone. That is one example.

Question: Is there any other major point that you disagree with?

Spokesman: Of course the question of a time frame. We believe that the main objective of the public consultation process is to obtain a clear sense of what the aspirations of the various components of the Afghan nation are in regard to this new Constitution. And in that sense we agree with the Commission and its Secretariat that the period allocated to that will enable the commissioners to collect the views of the groups of the population that represent all segments of the population of this country.

You know that the commissioners are going throughout the country and in Iran as well as Pakistan to talk to refugees there. In this country they will be talking to tribal elders, to ulemas, to women, to business groups, to youth groups, to people working with NGOs and international organizations and to former Emergency Loja Jirga delegates. In other words they will be collecting the views of all groups of society. In addition, several thousands questionnaires will be distributed where people will then be providing their views, and equally important, the population is invited by the Commissioners to provide in writing, their suggestions and proposals which can be collected at the different offices of the Commission throughout the country. In other words people do not even have to come to Kabul. [Researchers] in the Secretariat of the Commission are the ones in charge of analyzing this information that they have already started to receive. The public consultation process is scheduled to go on till the end of July and in the month of August the commissioners will be analyzing all these inputs and incorporating them in the draft.

One aspect which I think is extremely important and is missed [in the report] relates to transparency. This process here has such high degree of transparency that few constitutional processes in the world have. I am referring particularly to the fact that the commissioners are mandated not only to go and collect the views of the people, but also to go back afterwards and report to the people about how their views were incorporated into the Constitutional draft. This is extremely important and very rarely do you see that anywhere in the world.