Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 23 Feb 2003

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TALKING POINTS
SRSG addressed Tokyo Conference on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration

Speaking at the 'Consolidation of Peace (DDR) in Afghanistan' conference in Tokyo yesterday, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi said: "DDR is a fundamental component of the whole effort to advance the peace process, build the rule of law and allow for reconstruction and investment to return Afghanistan to a normal economic and social footing."

Mr. Brahimi also acknowledged that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process would not be an easy endeavour and that progress might sometimes be slow but he urged the international community to have patience, remain focused and to be persistent.

He said: "Donors, of course, are the indispensable part of the puzzle. We know that many, perhaps most Afghan fighters are tired of fighting and keen to return to civilian life. Certainty that there are sufficient funds to see them through the whole of the reintegration process will, I am sure, significantly increase their confidence and readiness to commit to demobilization."

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai also addressed the conference which was attended by representatives from around 40 countries and international organizations.

The conference endorsed the establishment of Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme by the Afghan Government with the assistance of UNAMA and the international community. Our initial information is that in addition to the thirty five million US dollars already pledged by the Japanese Government, there were other pledges which together total 50 million dollars which includes contributions from the United States, the UK and Canada.

Disarmament is expected to take place in one year and the ANBP is a three-year programme. Security personnel on active duty will be included in the demobilization and reintegration programme which will work to reintegrate former combatants by registering them, identifying their skills and helping them select options for reintegration into civilian society such as vocational training and land grants.

Mr. Brahimi is now on his way to Malaysia where he will be delivering a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur.

Government, AIHRC and UNAMA respond resolutely to shopkeepers in Helmand

Following complaints from aggrieved shop owners in Lashkargah, Helmand province about the demolition of their businesses by local authorities, an agreement has been reached to build a large market complex where the demolished establishments were located, which will house 1,000 new shops.

In an agreement brokered by the Transitional Administration, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA, local authorities have also assigned 200 of these shops to people whose places of business were destroyed. It was also agreed that the remaining 50 per cent of the complainants would be given adequate premises in the industrial zone of the city.

The background to the story is that a joint AIHRC/UNAMA mission visited Lashargagh during the first week of February to investigate the complaints by the shopkeepers. Local authorities demolished the premises because they were impeding a master plan for the city.

The mission met with the complainants, the Governor of Helmand and other local authorities. During those consultations the facts surrounding the demolitions were verified. The authorities were urged to find appropriate means of compensating the complainants. A Government delegation, appointed by President Hamid Karzai also visited the area and held extensive meetings with all the parties as well.

Disaster Management Framework for Afghanistan

Since the early 1980s, natural disasters have killed an estimated 19,000 people and displaced 7.5 million in Afghanistan. In that context we would like to draw your attention to a new report that is now out which was prepared by UNAMA entitled Disaster Management Framework for Afghanistan. This document describes a comprehensive framework for the disaster management needs for Afghanistan.

According to the report the main hazards that have adversely affected the lives, property and livelihoods of Afghans for centuries are: earthquakes, droughts, floods, landslides, extreme winters and avalanches as well as sand and dust storms. It further highlights that war and civil conflicts in the last two decades, as well as environmental degradation, have increased the vulnerability of the Afghan people to natural disasters. The report also summarizes the susceptibility of the country, by province to the main natural hazards.

One of the key observations in the report is that at present, the Afghan Government has insufficient capacity to respond or prepare for natural disasters. It points out that it will take at least a decade to effectively achieve basic national capacity in disaster management, provided that the necessary resources are made available by the government and its development partners.

We have limited copies of the report available for you at the side of the room

Monitoring of winterization programme

We've been telling you throughout the last couple of months about the winterization or winter response programme. Through this assistance plan thousands of tons of food, fuel, blankets, stoves and winter kits have been distributed to vulnerable families in Afghanistan.

Now a survey is underway of 1,000 households in 12 urban centres in Afghanistan including Kabul to find out how effective the winter response programme has been. Teams are already out in Jalalabad, Gardez, Khost and Bamyan, asking Afghans about the winter assistance programme, assessing its impact and finding out if it has been reaching the most vulnerable people.

Teams of surveyors will be going to Kunduz today and later this week to Faizabad, Herat, Farah, Maimana, Mazar, Kandahar and Kabul.

Preliminary findings suggest a positive response to the 'Cash for Work' programme and feedback on this and other issues raised by those questioned will be passed onto the Afghan Government and the relevant UN agencies. The results of the survey will also help with assistance programmes for returnees and vulnerable people in the population.

UNHCR -- Visit of the High Commissioner to Afghanistan, Spokesperson, Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Ruud Lubbers is arriving in Kabul this Wednesday for a four-day visit to Afghanistan. This is his first visit to the country this year, but fourth since 2001. He will be available for a press conference next Sunday morning before his departure. The venue is likely to be here at the UNAMA briefing.

Aside from meeting with the Afghan government officials in Kabul, the High Commissioner will take a field trip to Mazar-i-Sharif to discuss issues of the Return Commission. As you may recall, UNHCR, together with UNAMA and the Afghan government set up last fall a forum involving the local authorities in the north to seek ways for the eventual return of those who were forced to flee their homes in the northern provinces. Mr. Lubbers will also visit Nahrin district in the Balkh province to see the conditions of returnees and specifically, shelter projects there.

Narhin was hit by earthquakes in late 2001 and March 2002, which destroyed much of the houses and irrigation systems. UNHCR, USAID and ECHO have reconstructed nearly 5,000 shelters in Narhin during 2002. Baghlan province as a whole received second largest returning Afghans (next to Kabul province with 650,000), with 117,000 returnees recorded last year.

UNHCR - Repatriation Operation in 2003, UNHCR Spokesperson

The High Commissioner's visit also marks the start of this year's repatriation assistance operation. On 2 March -- next Sunday -- UNHCR's mobile teams in Pakistan will begin visiting villages and camps to assist and process refugees who wish to return to Afghanistan. Similar to last year, upon arrival inside Afghanistan, the returning refugees will receive travel grant of up to US$30 per person depending on the destination, an additional US$ 5 per family if they bring their own housing construction material, as well as plastic sheeting, soap and hygiene items.

To verify the individual returnees, Iris recognition facilities will be set up in four locations this year, in Takhta Baig, Chaman and Ali Zai (Kurram Agency) in Pakistan and a fourth inside Afghanistan in Khost.

UNHCR expects to assist this year 1.5 million returnees, including 1.2 million Afghans returning across the border, with a budget of US$ 195 million. Donors have so far provided us US$ 15.4 million against this budget. We have indications for additional funding from donors, but what is crucial for this massive repatriation operation is liquidity. At the height of return in May last year, we have spent US$ 28 million in operations alone (not including the administration cost) assisting the returning Afghans that month.

We appeal to donors to continue funding assistance programs for Afghanistan, as early in the year as possible, so that we could keep up with the daily rate of returns, which is expected to increase once our repatriation operation begins next week and throughout the spring and summer seasons.

The number of facilitated returns to Afghanistan this year is about 7,300 people, of whom 2,750 returned from Pakistan and 4,450 from Iran. During 2002, UNHCR assisted the return of 1.8 million refugees and nearly 250,000 people displaced internally.

UNICEF -- School rehabilitation programme to increase learning spaces across Afghanistan, Communication Officer, Edward Carwardine

Efforts to increase the number of learning spaces in Afghanistan are underway in an effort to improve physical facilities for children expected to flood back to the classrooms when the new term begins in March.

At the heart of these efforts is a partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) to rehabilitate at least 200 primary schools across Afghanistan in 2003, with a special emphasis on areas of country where large numbers of people have returned from overseas. The partnership is worth US$8.4 million and initial assessments have been undertaken on schools in the north, south and east of the country with work already underway on three schools in the eastern region. The collaboration with UNOPS will also see water and sanitation facilities provided in 500 schools and the refurbishment of 32 hospital buildings. Funding for the school rehabilitation programme has been provided through the Japanese Government's Ogata Initiative.

During 2002, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education undertook rehabilitation of 101 schools providing improved learning environments for nearly 128,000 children. In addition to the partnership with UNOPS, UNICEF is now completing rehabilitation of a further 30 schools with NGO partners.

According to a joint study by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF undertaken in 2002, 30% of Afghanistan's 7,000 schools have been seriously damaged. In total, two-thirds of schools are in need of some form of repairs. Only half of schools have available clean water, while less than 40% have adequate sanitation facilities. UNICEF aims to ensure that every primary school in Afghanistan has a clean water point by the end of 2003, and will provide sanitation facilities in 1,500 primary schools over the next twelve months.

Physical infrastructure is one of the major concerns of the education authorities in Afghanistan. Last year, twice the anticipated number of school children returned to the classroom placing great strains on the already weakened education system. UNICEF supplied over 6,000 school tents to help provide temporary classroom space. In 2003, UNICEF expects a total of 4 million school children to attend school.

This week sees the completion of the rehabilitation of Hora Jalali Girls' School in Charikar, Parwan Province. Media interested in seeing the final stages of work being undertaken are invited to join UNICEF on Tuesday 25 February for a visit to the school site.

Questions and answers (due to technical difficulties this is not a transcript)

Question: Is the UN concerned that there will be 100,000 people will be jobless [if they are disarmed and demobilized] and the [unemployment] situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate?

Spokesman: This programme is called disarmament, demobilization and reintegration exactly because it's a package that includes disarming, demobilizing those currently armed and reintegrating them into civilian life by providing them with the means to provide for their families with dignity.

The Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme has this name exactly to reflect that idea -- people will be registered, provided with education or tools or resources or money to initiate a new life, a new beginning. It is in the plural to reflect that there are different ways of getting started and these ways vary according to individual characteristics as well as the geographical areas where they live.

Question: Is there any further information about the cave dwellers in Bamyan?

Spokesman: UNAMA and the UN agencies met to review the living conditions of those currently living in the caves. Clearly the conditions in the caves are not satisfactory for people to live in and a solution is needed that takes that into account as well as the cultural heritage artefacts in the caves. The UN and the Governor are looking at how to deal with this and as soon as we have further details we'll let you know.

Question: The Disaster Framework -- is it only a draft or a proposal? Will there be disaster preparedness teams because there's going to be another earthquake in northern Afghanistan in the coming years?

Spokesman: This report highlights the need for building the capacity of Afghanistan to deal with natural disasters. It's important to identify these needs. Right now I do not have the answer about what immediate activity is starting or in what timeframe. But awareness raising for this issue is very important and I hope that through you we'll be able to raise awareness of the Afghan people regarding preparedness to deal with natural disasters.

Question: In March the repatriation of refugees will restart, regardless of the AREU report. Is UNHCR not concerned about the report and what it says?

UNHCR: We are not in control of the flow of refugees, we cannot stop people from returning to Afghanistan, nor can we force people to return. We can try and be prepared to assist the people returning.

Spokesman: In fairness to the report they note that it is necessary for the international community to continue supporting the countries of asylum so that refugees do not feel they have to return to Afghanistan. Return is voluntary.

Rainfall in Kandahar

Spokesman: On Thursday we told you about flash floods in the south and how there is now rain in the Dahla dam for the first time in four years. Now we can tell you that the rain and snow fall in the south so far this year is more than for the whole of 2002. Last year there was 42.90 mm across the south and in January and February this year there has already been 76.61 mm -- that's an increase of 80 per cent on last year.

While the precipitation may not replenish the drought-affected aquifers, it is thought that the recent rain and snow fall will mean adequate subsoil moisture levels leading to successful cultivation of winter and spring crops.

The rain and snowfall is also better distributed across the five provinces -- with heavy showers in Helmand, Nimroz and Kandahar and snowfalls in Zabul and Uruzgan. It is expected that many Karizes and springs will revive. Increased river flows are anticipated when the snow starts to melt in the highlands and mountains.

To tell us more about meteorological situation across the whole country we have a special guest today from the Food and Agriculture Organization. Rabah Lekhal is an agro-meteorologist expert from FAO's team in Afghanistan.