Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 26 Jan 2003

I'm very happy that this briefing in our new press briefing room, although not yet officially open, takes place on a day when we have rain and snow which is a great thing here for Afghanistan.

Rehabilitation of 30 Hammams in Kabul Completed

Ten rehabilitated hammams (public baths) will be open in time for Eid-ul Adha here in Kabul. The official inauguration will take place tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at the Kart-a Sakhi Hammam on Kabul University Road next to Ghazi High school. The Municipality of Kabul implemented the project with support from United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Recovery and Employment Afghanistan Programme (REAP) and the European Commission.

In the rehabilitation of these hammams a dedicated team of female engineers, ensured that all the essential needs of women were considered along with an equal allocation of space. A memorandum of understanding between the Municipality of Kabul, the Ministry of Health and UNDP, will assure the upkeep of the Hammams. The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in cooperation with Hammam project engineers will develop a hygiene education programme with key messages for public bathhouses.

We have a press release here with more details. Just for your background we had a note not long ago about this hammam project that 30 of them were to be rehabilitated in 14 districts of Kabul. Twenty were completed in time for Eid Al-Fitr, in other words at the beginning of December and the remaining ten are now being opened tomorrow.

Rebuilding the Justice System of Afghanistan

Yesterday the Afghan Judicial Reform Commission and the United Nations Development Programme signed a Project on Rebuilding the Justice System of Afghanistan.

After the establishment of the Judicial Reform Commission, this two-year project is the first major step towards reforming the justice system.

The first part of the project will be reconstructing and equipping the courthouses across the country; training judges and other law offices; increasing the capacity of the administration of justice system; organizing seminars and training for the staff of the justice system. Particular attention will be given to ensure gender equity and a firmer role for women through the judicial system.

Strengthening the teaching and research capacity of Kabul University's Faculty of Law and Sharia, which is planned in the project, is part of the initial stage of judicial reform. A legal research institute will be established within the University and the library will be upgraded.

The Judicial Reform Commission will be directly responsible for the full implementation of all elements of the reform programme. Representatives of the Commission, UNAMA and UNDP as well as the Italian Embassy will comprise the steering committee of the project, while having a primary role in raising and managing the funds for the reform.

The reason it's the Italian Embassy, you may recall that last year at a meeting led by the Afghan Administration, it was agreed that for the security sector certain nations would be the lead nations for different aspects of the reform of the security sector. So the US is in charge of training the new Army, Germany of the new Police, the UK of the fight against drugs, Japan and UNDP of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and Italy of the reform of the judicial system.

The project that I announced, the signing that took place yesterday, follows the international conference on Reform of the Afghan Justice System held in Rome back in December, shortly before Christmas which re-emphasized that the primary responsibility for rebuilding the Afghan justice sector lay with the Judicial Reform Commission. It also emphasized the important role of the United Nations in the coordination of all assistance programme. Conference participants declared their commitment to assist the Afghan Administration and the Judicial Commission in a generous, efficient and coordinated way in restoring the judicial system and the rule of law in Afghanistan. Approximately 30 million US dollars were pledged for rebuilding Afghanistan's judicial system by the donor nations which attended that Rome conference.

Launch of Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment Report

This is just to remind you as we announced at the last briefing and today we have a handout for you, the Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment Report for Afghanistan will be launched this coming Wednesday by the Afghan Ministry of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The launch will be in the morning with the government officials and at two o'clock in the afternoon here in this room there will be a press conference bring together the Minister of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment and the Head of the UNEP taskforce in Afghanistan.

New Addition to OCPI

This I believe is it, except for one announcement which I have been meaning to tell you for the last three briefings and I always end up not doing it. Along with the change in venue of our office, the Office of Communication and Public Information of UNAMA, as you may have noticed, we are also changing staff and we are now almost with our total new team on board. The latest addition is Anne Thomas. Anne's most recent job was with the United Nations Office in Vienna. Prior to that she worked with a number of NGOs in the UK and also with the BBC.

UNICEF - First ever campaign to immunize Afghan women against tetanus set to begin, Edward Carwadine, Communication Officer

The first ever campaign to immunize Afghan women against the killer disease tetanus will be launched on Saturday 1 February by His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan. The campaign, which is supported by UNICEF, aims to reach every woman of child bearing age between now and the end of 2005 as part of a worldwide effort to eradicate the disease by that date.

Tetanus is a major killer of newborn children - approximately 200,000 infants and 30,000 women die from the disease each year across the world. But three doses of tetanus toxoid vaccine over a 12-month period are sufficient to provide five years of immunity to both mother and newborn child, but in Afghanistan immunization coverage levels are as low as 13%. The new campaign will involve the use of a new device, known as Uniject, which eliminates the need for technical expertise and reliance on trained health workers, allowing ordinary men and women to administer the potent tetanus toxoid vaccine with very limited amounts of training.

One of the world's leading experts on tetanus immunization, Dr. Francois Gasse from UNICEF's headquarters in New York, will be in Afghanistan this week to monitor the start of the campaign and begin planning a nationwide assessment of tetanus prevalence amongst women of child-bearing age. He will be making a special presentation to the media at the UNAMA press briefing on Thursday 30 January. Dr. Gasse will also be available for individual interviews with journalists on request.

Further information on the tetanus immunization campaign and the launch with President Karzai will be made available at Thursday's briefing.

UNICEF - Accelerated learning classes for girls exceed original expectations, Edward Carwadine, Communication Officer

Turning to education, initial monitoring of the accelerated learning classes for girls here in Kabul has shown that demand for education has exceeded initial expectations, with more than 15,000 girls now enrolled in classes around the city.

The winter classes, led by the Afghan Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF and the Bangladeshi non-governmental organization (NGO) BRAC, are specially designed to meet the needs of older girls who have missed out on a number of years of schooling either due to the Taliban restrictions or displacement to countries overseas. Many of the students have been enrolled in much lower grades than their age would normally indicate and this has led to difficulties in delivering appropriate education to them. At the end of the three month programme, students who are taking part in these special lessons will undertake an examination to determine which grade they will return to when schools officially reopen in March -most of the girls are expected to re-enter schooling at the appropriate grade for their age.

Original plans for the programme anticipated some 11,000 girls attending Grade 1 lessons in mathematics and Dari - but so far nearly 11,500 children have signed up for the special courses at this level and many more are expected to join classes in coming weeks. Lesson content has been designed by BRAC, with additional training provided to teachers delivering the courses. Funding for the programme, along with classroom materials, has been provided by UNICEF.

During 2002, over 3 million children returned to school across Afghanistan, 30% of which were girls. Nearly half of students enrolled in Grade 1, leading to cases where 15 and 16 year old children were studying alongside pupils aged six and seven years. It was recognized that this mixture of ages would have a detrimental effect on the quality of the education being delivered, and could risk children dropping out of school. The accelerated learning programme is therefore an essential strategy to improve opportunities for children who have fallen behind in their education, and ensure their continued presence in the classroom this year.

Journalists wishing to visit accelerated learning classes are invited to contact UNICEF in order to arrange visits to meet pupils and teachers taking part in the programme. Courses are run for four hours a day, between 8 am and 12 pm, Saturday to Thursday.

Indian Biscuit Donation Update, World Food Programme Public Affairs Officer, Alejandro Lopez-Chicheri

The United Nations World Food Programme in Afghanistan would like to thank the Government of Iran for its assistance in the transportation of fortified biscuits, donated by the Government of India, to feed up to one million Afghan schoolchildren.

Two hundred metric tonnes of this important humanitarian donation arrived at the port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, this week on the vessel "Sinar Sima Roja", and has been off-loaded. The shipment is currently in transit to Afghanistan and is expected in the next couple of weeks.

The biscuits, made from fortified wheat flour (with added vitamins), are the first part of a larger consignment being shipped to different destinations in Afghanistan. The biscuits will arrive in Herat by road and in Mazari Sharif and Kabul via Termez.

The donation will be used as part of the WFP school feeding programme in Afghanistan. Up to 1 million children, enrolled in schools, will receive the biscuits.

Questions and Answers (questions are not full transcripts)

Question: On 27 January the weapons inspectors in Iraq will report to the Security Council, how seriously does it affect the security situation in Afghanistan and has the UN warned to the NGOs and foreign staff about a possible attack on Iraq?

Spokesman: You have two questions that do not really pertain to Afghanistan but I can try to answer. Of course we all see what's happening in the world, we all see the situation in Iraq, the presence of the inspectors, the reaction of different countries, the preparations for war by the United States and the UK and I'm sure you've also seen word about contingency plans regarding a possible humanitarian crisis. Our belief is that, and I'm sure you have seen these words being expressed by different UN and non-UN officials, we think that war is not inevitable. But if I were to say that we are not making contingency plans, if I were to deny that I would be disingenuous because that's a fact, that is happening. Now if a war happens and this is just a hypothesis, because no one knows what will happen, if a war happens, will that have an effect in Afghanistan, of course it will, as it will in many other places. Have we talked about that yes we have talked about that. Are we prepared to make any announcements no we are not prepared to make any announcements so this is the answer I can give you at this point.

Question: Has the UN warned so far to NGOs?

Spokesman: The UN has regular meetings, the UN system has regular meetings here in Kabul and in the provinces in areas where we operate and we bring together UN agencies as well as NGOs. Security is one of the issues raised and in that forum, in this continuum of meetings, is that if anything is necessary it will be raised. Have they talked about it already - yes they have talked about it but as I said I don't think there's anything that is for any kind of announcement because it's just like any other situation in a country where you don't have final stability yet and you talk about a number of different elements that affect security conditions so that is just one more of those but which fortunately is not happening and inshallah will not happen.

Question: Yesterday we heard there was an assassination attempt on one of the offshoots of the government maybe one of the ministers, can you say anything about that?

Spokesman: I haven't heard anything about that. I suggest you try with the government information people or maybe our ISAF colleagues who will brief after us.

Question: So you don't know anything about any tightened security last night?

Spokesman: No I don't know, maybe you can ask ISAF, they will be briefing after Dr. Fleerackers.

The guest today is Dr. Yon Fleerackers of the World Health Organization who has just returned from tackling the outbreak of whooping cough in Badakshan. A transcript of his briefing is also available.