Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 30 Jan 2003

Format
News and Press Release
Source
Posted
Originally published
TALKING POINTS
Press Conference by Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and UNDP

We'll have a short briefing. As we announced earlier immediately following this briefing at 11.15am we will have the Minister of Urban Development and Housing, Yusuf Pashtun, who together with Knut Otsby, Acting Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), will be signing a memorandum of understanding which will effectively mean that the Project Implementation Unit of UNDP will be moving to the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing. Following the signing ceremony there will be a press conference by Mr. Pashtun, Mr. Otsby and Mr. Wurria Karadaghy, the Coordinator of the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) (For highlights please see attached note). He is becoming, as a result of that Memorandum of Understanding, the Senior Advisor to the Minister on Urban Planning.

This move of the PIU to the Ministry is aimed not only at strengthening the capacity of the Ministry here in Kabul but also to expand the reach of the central government to the provincial districts and local capitals. Both the Minister and Mr. Otsby will explain more about this after the signing of the document, then you will hear from Mr. Karadaghy who we have been mentioning throughout the last year as he was the one managing the projects that you always heard about - the Recovery and Employment Afghanistan Programme (REAP), which has been involved in the rehabilitation and mass employment of Afghans in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. Mr. Karadaghy will take up his new position bringing that year of experience with him as well as 20 years in urban rehabilitation in developing countries. He is an architect and a specialist in urban planning.

Please see below for the Note on the Press Conference

Update on Joint Visit of Afghan Human Rights Commission/UNAMA to Herat

Last week we told you about our Senior Human Rights Advisor going to Herat. As you know that visit did not happen because of weather conditions, the flight could not depart. The visit however, did happen two days ago on Tuesday January 28th. It was, as you know, a joint mission by UNAMA Senior Human Rights Advisor and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the Herat Administration. Representatives of UNICEF and UNHCR also took part in the meeting.

The issue of teachers for girl students was raised at the meeting. The Head of the Herat Education Department, Mr. Alhaj Bismillah Besmel, explained that they were in fact implementing a decree issued by the Ministry of Education almost a year ago during the Interim Administration. The authorities reportedly took action after receiving letters of complaint from the parents of female students protesting against their daughters being taught by male teachers. The problem had emerged particularly in the so-called winter courses for girls - the private courses attended by girls to make up for lost school years.

According to Mr. Bismillah, the measure will not affect the access of girls to education as there is a sufficient number of female teachers in the province.

In fact a rapid assessment by UNICEF in May 2002 showed that for the first six grades in the entire Herat province there are 142,188 boys and 91,270 girls, along with 3,532 male teachers and 2,255 female teachers. So for the whole province the male students to male teacher ratio is 40.25:1 and the female student to female teacher ratio is 40.47:1. However in the Herat district itself female teachers allegedly outnumber male teachers.

These figures would indicate that access of girls to education would not be generally affected in the district of Herat. However it might be affected in the rural areas where the number of female teachers is smaller and also in specialized courses such as English language or computer courses where the number of female teachers is particularly low.

The UNAMA Senior Human Rights Advisor and UNICEF will be following up the meeting by approaching the Ministry of Education about the decree and how it is being implemented, if at all, at national level and to assess its impact in other parts of Afghanistan.

Security - Mazar and Jalalabad

I have a couple of clarifications given incorrect media reports in the last few days.

First Mazar. A radio station reported last night that UN expatriate demining officers had been evacuated from Mazar following an explosion in their office on Sunday. I want to clarify that no one has been evacuated. We do not even have demining expatriate staff in Mazar. The demining operation is all run by Afghan personnel.

Now for your records, the facts about the explosion as we know them. At about 7:00 p.m. Sunday (26 January) evening an explosive device detonated on the roof of the UN Mine Action Centre Afghanistan (MACA) building in Mazar-i-Sharif. No one was killed neither was anyone injured. The large shockwave from the explosion shattered windows in both the MACA office and in a house nearby. Except for security outside the building, fortunately there was no one in the office at the time of the explosion.

Initial reports indicate that someone walking by may have thrown the device onto the roof. UN Security and the Mazar police were on the scene immediately following the explosion. A Police investigation is ongoing.

The second point to clarify is about the victims in the Jalalabad incident with UNHCR vehicles also last Sunday, 26 January.

There were no UN personnel injured or killed in that incident. Unfortunately, two members of the security escort provided by the provincial authorities to the UNHCR convoy were killed and one was injured.

Though many of you filed stories on this incident, here are the facts, as we know them.

At around 10:00 am last Sunday, a convoy of four UNHCR cars and one provincial security escort vehicle on the Jalalabad-Hesarak road (Nangahar province) stopped in the Khojiani District when they saw a body lying on the road. Moments after they stopped, another vehicle with armed men arrived on the scene. The UNHCR team turned around to go back to Jalalabad and report to the police. The security escort and the armed men exchanged fire. As a result two of the escorts were killed and one was injured. A Police investigation is ongoing. We do not know the identity of the assailants nor the motive for the attack.

As a result of this incident, UN road missions to Khogiani, Izerak and Sezar districts have been suspended. This has a direct impact on our humanitarian programmes. Some 1,000 families due to receive aid as part of the winter response will not receive assistance until this road restriction is lifted.

Factsheets

I wanted to bring to your attention four new UNAMA factsheets on the following topics:

They are in English, Dari and Pashto. Each factsheet contextualizes the problem, tells you what has been done in 2002 and what are the plans for 2003.

Just to give you an example, in the factsheet on mine action you can learn that 30 out of Afghanistan's 32 provinces are affected by landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs). The Afghan government's plan is to declare Afghanistan free of landmines in 10 years time and last year the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) expanded the number of Afghan staff from 4,700 to 7,000. This year MAPA plans to further increase its staff as well as the number of mechanical clearance teams.

These factsheets are available in English, Dari and Pashto. They will be distributed countrywide through our UNAMA offices but also to NGOs and Government officials.

They will also be available on our recently-launched UNAMA website - www.unama-afg.org

UNICEF - Groundbreaking campaign to protect women and children against tetanus gets underway in Afghanistan, Edward Carwadine, Communication Officer

I have some more information on the launch of the tetanus vaccination campaign. A groundbreaking campaign by the Afghan Ministry of Health, supported by UNICEF and WHO to protect all women of childbearing age against neonatal tetanus is being launched on Saturday 1 February. The campaign is part of a global effort to eliminate the disease which annually kills approximately 200,000 infants and 30,000 women in developing countries.

The efforts here in Afghanistan mark a number of firsts. The immunization campaign utilizes a new device know as Uniject, which involves the use of a pre-filled syringe of vaccine that can be administered by non-health personnel with basic training. Three doses of tetanus toxoid vaccine will provide up to five years immunity to both mother and newborn child, while five doses provide protection for life. Tetanus is a major threat to pregnant women and their babies, as infection is often contracted through non-sterile cutting of the umbilical cord and passed onto the newborn child. Antibodies provided by the vaccine protect newborn children for the first two months of life, at which age they will usually be vaccinated themselves.

Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, as shown by a UNICEF-sponsored study undertaken last year. The new campaign is part of a broad strategy to tackle this problem, and aims to reach 740,000 women in 2003 and a total of 4.7 million by the end of 2005. The first round of the campaign is being supported financially by the Government of Japan and UNICEF.

The launch of the campaign on Saturday will also involve another landmark for Afghanistan. His Excellency President Hamid Karzai has made a television and radio appeal, urging all women of childbearing age to receive vaccination which will be broadcast regularly during the coming months. This is the first time that an Afghan President has made such a direct appeal on an issue of women's health. President Karzai will be joined by senior Government officials and representatives of the international community on Saturday at 9am at the Ministry of Public Health to officially launch the three-year tetanus campaign.

For anyone interested we have two events on Sunday related to this campaign. First Dr. Francois Gasse one of the world's leading experts on tetanus, from UNICEF's headquarters in New York will give a briefing on Sunday at the UNAMA briefing here. Immediately following that on Sunday we can arrange visits to clinics here in Kabul to see the very first women receiving their vaccinations on the first full day of the campaign.

Questions and Answers (due to recording failure, this is not a verbatim transcript)

Question: Having heard today about Herat, is the UN still concerned about human rights there and have you contacted the authorities in Kabul and what was their response?

The Spokesman said that this visit on Tuesday of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the UNAMA Senior Human Rights Advisor was the second and it was part of an ongoing dialogue with the Herat Authorities on human rights issues. The question was raised of girls/boys education and female/male teachers and as a result of what was learned we would be following up with national educational authorities.

Question: But on that issue is the UN satisfied?

The Spokesman said that we have just started and that there was a dialogue and let's see how it progresses.

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Note on Press Conference by Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Thursday 30 January 2003, 11.15am, UNAMA

Today the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MUDH) and UNDP have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) here at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). By signing this document the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) of UNDP will move to the Ministry to strengthen cooperation and its capacity.

The document was signed by Minister Yusuf Pashtun of the MUDH and the Acting Country Director of UNDP in Afghanistan, Knut Otsby. The Coordinator of the Project Implementation Unit of UNDP, Wurria Karadaghy, will become the senior advisor on urban development to the Minister. The move by PIU to the Ministry is aimed not only at strengthening the capacity of the Ministry in Kabul but also to enable it to extend its reach to the provincial district and local capitals. Mr. Kardaghy who has been managing UNDP's Recovery and Employment Afghanistan Programme (REAP) for the last year, also has 20 years experience in urban rehabilitation in developing countries.

Speaking at a press conference which followed the signing ceremony, Minister Pashtun said housing was one of the greatest issues facing the whole country: "Kabul is in particular need, because of the destruction of 60-65,000 houses and the population of Kabul has now almost doubled since September 2001 - it's now nearly three million and getting bigger, so the housing shortage is getting worse." He said there were two projects to improve the situation. One is to develop a small satellite town, called Shar-i-Sabz, with 100,000 units of housing to be completed in the next three to four years. The other is to start rehabilitating western Kabul which suffered the major destruction and which does not have basic utilities such as water and power.

The Minister is looking to the private sector to actually build the homes and he said there were more than fifteen companies ready to start work once the plans are finalized by the end of the Afghan year. The Minister's Advisor on Urban Planning, Mr. Jalalzadeh added that urban planning and development was about more than just housing. The Ministry's plans for developing urban areas included bringing other facilities into urban areas.