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

SRSG to visit Russian Federation and Uzbekistan

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is leaving Kabul early this afternoon for Moscow. During a two-day official visit to the Russian Federation, Mr. Brahimi will hold meetings with a number of senior Russian officials, led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Igor Ivanov.

On 26 March, Mr. Brahimi will go to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for a one-day official visit. He is expected to be back in Kabul next Thursday, 27 March.

World Tuberculosis Day - 24 March

"More people die from tuberculosis (TB) than from any other curable infectious disease in the world," the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, says in his message on World Tuberculosis Day which is tomorrow (24 March)

The Secretary-General adds that despite the size of this pandemic, TB has long been neglected by international donors. He calls on the international community to do more in order to meet the global targets of detecting 70 per cent of all infectious TB cases and curing 85 per cent of those detected by 2005.

We have copies of the Secretary-General's message available on the table.

Afghanistan has one of the highest incidents of TB in the world -approximately 14,000 new cases were reported in Afghanistan in 2002 and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the tuberculosis prevalence rate in Afghanistan is 321 per 100,000 people.

The Ministry of Public Health and WHO have established TB coordinators around the country and they plan to double the number of TB centres around Afghanistan this year to more than 180. The TB Centres aim to reach and treat TB patients even in remote areas and also carry out preventative health education campaigns.

There will be a ceremony at the Ministry of Public Health to mark World Tuberculosis Day tomorrow and an agreement will be signed between WHO and the World Food Programme which Alejandro will tell you more about shortly.

Peace and Reconciliation is key theme in Gardez Children's Workshop

The children of Gardez last week worked towards peace and reconciliation. In Gardez, in the province of Paktika, a small segment of Afghanistan's future, 1200 boys and girls, actively participated in a four-day workshop in which one of the key themes was peace and reconciliation.

On Monday 800 boys and 400 girls from the Gardez School for Boys and School for Girls came together for the first day of the workshop and were taught acting, puppet making, art and Dol and Atan - traditional Afghan dancing accompanied by drumming. Using these art forms they then staged their own cultural presentations on the main theme as well as on other topics such as the need for education, heath and mine awareness. Key issues and values were therefore passed on to other children and by extension to families and the community in general. As a follow up drawings made by the children during the workshop are currently being displayed in schools.

The Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMMC) ran the workshops with the support of the local government and departments of the Ministries of Education, Health and Information and Culture as well as UNAMA. The response by the children to the workshop was so enthusiastic that the local government is now considering staging others in various parts of the province in the near future.

SRSG - launch of the 1382 school year

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Lakhdar Brahimi, joined President Hamid Karzai, Minister Yunus Qanooni and other senior Afghan officials as well as representatives from the diplomatic corps, NGOs and the UN at the ceremony held yesterday at the Amani High School to launch the beginning of the 1382 Afghan school year.

In his impromptu remarks, Mr. Brahimi called "unacceptable" the attacks against schools, mostly girls schools, in some part of the country last year. He said that "neither the religion of Afghanistan, nor the culture, nor any tradition and certainly not the tradition of Jihad allow something like this to happen." He went further to say that those who do this are the enemies of the people, religion and culture of Afghanistan. He called on Afghans "to unite against these destructive elements" who are not serving any principles that the people of Afghanistan recognize as their own.

He congratulated Mr. Qanooni for all that has been done so far in the field of education and called on the international community to increase its support to allow the Ministry's goals to be achieved this year: a roof over every school, a table, a chair and a book for every child. He also said the UN system, through UNICEF and UNESCO, was doing its best and expressed the hope that more would be done by all involved in the education sector to help the girls and boys of this country to have the education they deserve.

The transcript of the SRGS's remarks are available.

Mazar Security Commission Delegations leaves today to calm situation in Latti

A delegation of the Mazar Multi-Party Security Commission is leaving Mazar-e-Sharif today for Latti, a village in Sar-i-Pul District in Sar-i-Pul Province to mediate a dispute between the two major factions: Jamiat and Jumbesh. This dispute involves among other things the theft of 250 sheep.

On 16 March, fighting broke out between the two factions in Latti. In the ensuing conflict five Jumbesh commanders were taken captive and one was reported injured. The retreating forces stole 250 sheep. Although there has been no further fighting tensions are still high. The Commission in its continuous attempts to promote peace in the north will attempt to resolve the dispute between the two sides.

As you know the Commission is made up of members of the key factions in the North and is often facilitated by UNAMA.

Mazar Security Commission Delegations leaves today to calm situation in Tangi Hassani

Another delegation of the Security Commission is also leaving Mazar today for Tangi Hassani in Darra-i-Suf, in Samangan province, to resolve tensions between two other factions - Harakat-Islami and Hezb-i-Wahdat.

On 16 March a Harakat-Islami commander was ambushed in the bazaar of Tangi Hassani. One of his bodyguards was injured while his vehicle was set on fire. This incident comes in the wake of two armed conflicts over the last seven months in this region between the two factions.

While the current situation is still tense, the leaders of the two factions have currently agreed to not to engage in further hostilities and to await the arrival of the Commission.

Internally Displaced People Return Home

More than 1,000 internally displaced people returned to their homes this week, last Tuesday, in the province of Badghis, with the assistance of the International Organization of Migration (IOM). This was the largest group to return home since IOM restarted its daily transport help in February.

The IDP families who had been living in Maslakh and Shaidayee camps in Western Afghanistan, have returned to their villages of origin in six districts of Badghis (Qala-e-Naw, Muqur, Darai Bum, Sang Atish, Qadis and Jawand). IOM officers including medical staff escorted the 28-truck convoy.

Returns are expected to increase in the coming weeks. Since the beginning of the year, the IOM office in Herat has assisted a total of 6,158 IDPs (1,477 families) of a total estimated internally displaced population of some 65,000.

Meanwhile in the northern provinces the Ministry for Refugees and Repatriation, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR will be launching an information campaign and joint registration exercise of IDPs.

Starting on Thursday (27 March) teams will be giving up-to-date information about conditions in their places of origin to IDP representatives, community members and women in the northern provinces so people can make an informed decision about voluntary return home. Those who wish to return will then be registered.

There are an estimated 45,000 IDPs in Takhar, Jawzjan, Sari Pul, Faryab, Balkh Samangan, Baghlan, Kunduz and Badkhshan.

Postponement of World Water Day

Last Sunday we told you that World Water Day should have been commemorated yesterday here in Kabul with events being planned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The celebration of that of day in Afghanistan has been postponed and will now be commemorated here in Kabul on 4 June to coincide with World Environment Day, which will be observed on 5 June. We will give you more information on both events closer to the dates.

In a message delivered on World Water Day yesterday, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said that it was the poor in developing countries who suffered the most from lack of water and they who had the least say in water management. It was also their children -- more than 2 million -- who died each year from water-related diseases. "This is a social, economic, environmental and political crisis that should be among the world community's highest priorities", he said.

We have copies of the message at the side of the room

World Food Programme (WFP), Alejandro Lopez-Chicheri, Public Affairs Officer

World Tuberculosis Day

As Manoel said, tomorrow a ceremony will be held at the Ministry of Public Health to mark World Tuberculosis Day. At this time, WFP will sign an agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist TB patients that undergo Directly Observed Treatment Short course (DOTS) and other regular TB treatment.

WFP's food aid support to patients receiving TB treatment will be provided under the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation and will support the efforts of the Ministry and WHO to increase the detection and cure rates of TB in the country. The project will be implemented in the 32 provinces of Afghanistan where WHO and the Ministry of Health are treating TB patients.

An estimated 27,400 TB patients will be assisted in 2003. Assuming that each food aid recipient takes the ration home to an average family of 6 persons, it is expected that some 164,400 beneficiaries will receive food support. Each TB patient and his/her family will be assisted between 8 and 12 months depending on and in accordance with the TB treatment

Together with the Government, UN Agencies and Implementing Partners, WFP will continue its activities to support the most vulnerable Afghans in the coming years through the new Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation due to start on April 1, 2003.

Donation of Canada

WFP would like to express its gratitude to the Government and the people of Canada for their latest contribution of US$ 805,369 confirmed last week through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA/CANADA) to WFP's Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO 10233.0).

The PRRO, approved 6 of February 2003 by the WFP's Executive Board, will become operational on 1 April 2003. The operation will assist 9 million people over 2 years and will have 618,989 MT of food requirement with a total cost of US$ 337.5 millions.

Canada is the first of what it is expected to be a long list of donors that will help WFP assist the most vulnerable people of Afghanistan in the reconstruction effort.

UNHCR, Maki Shinohara, spokesperson

Tripartite agreements

The government of Afghanistan and UNHCR signed this week two agreements with the governments of Pakistan and the Netherlands, respectively, which outline the assistance to Afghan refugees. These are in addition to similar agreements signed last year between Iran, UK and France.

The tripartite agreement was signed with the Government of Pakistan on Monday, at the occasion of the Afghanistan High-level Strategic Forum held in Brussels. As a result of a year-long discussion, the three parties affirmed their commitments to assist the voluntary return of Afghan refugees in Pakistan for the next three years.

Despite the absence of a formal agreement last year, UNHCR and the Afghan government had assisted the return of 1.5 million Afghans from Pakistan in 2003. It is estimated that there are at least 1.5 million Afghans remaining in Pakistan.

The agreement with the government of the Netherlands was signed in The Hague on the following day, on Tuesday. The Dutch government agreed to assist the Afghans who wish to return, while continuing to host until April 2004, those who do not return at this time. There are an estimated 40,000 Afghans in the Netherlands.

Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation at both occasions thanked the two governments for hosting Afghans, some of whom have stayed for more than two decades, and appealed the need of reconstruction assistance inside Afghanistan to allow the sustainable return of Afghans.

Repatriation figures

While refugee returns from Iran has been low but fairly constant this year, the return movement from Pakistan is slowly picking up in the third week since the start of the repatriation operation this month. Just over 600 Afghans have returned from Pakistan in the past weeks, mainly from areas around Peshawar and Karachi.

The total number of returns this year is a little over 11,000, including 7,630 from Iran and 3,320 from Pakistan.

This year's assistance to returning Afghans from Pakistan began with those in March. We will begin assisting the urban refugees in April. Despite the sporadic security incidents in the southeast, preparation is underway to assist Afghans returning to the region this year. We are establishing "encashment" centers in Gardez and Khost, in addition to Ghazni. We also hope to set up iris scanning facilities in Khost, the first and only one inside Afghanistan.

Flood in Kunduz

I was asked about a flood in a camp in the north that happened last week. On 14 March, heavy rain (and hail) flooded a settlement in Amir Abad in Kunduz province. Upon assessment, we found that 18 houses had been damaged. On Wednesday, 19th, UNHCR has sent 18 tents and 36 plastic sheeting to those affected, including both internally displaced and local families. Nearby agricultural land may also have been damaged by the rain. UNAMA and WFP are currently assessing further needs in the area.

Questions and Answers

Question: Why do you think you're getting so many urban returnees at the moment?

UNHCR: That's a good question. I think you know since this is really the new year and the start of the planting season I think there were some people who may have missed the opportunity before the winter set in are now planning to come back. I think the reason is pretty much similar to last year which is basically to come back to their own country to start rebuilding their lives here.

Question: You've had a 48 hour stay-at-home, are you operating normally again now?

Spokesman: Yes.