Welcome, all, to this weeks's UNAMA press briefing. As usual we have a few updates on UN activities from around the country, before we go to your questions.
UPDATE ON IRAN RETURNEES
Over the last few days, IOM, in coordination with representatives from UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF and UNAMA led an assessment mission to the transit centre in Farah province, where Afghan migrants recently deported from Iran are being helped before returning to their places of origin around the country.
The latest figures we have are that over a thousand families have returned and registered with the Farah Department of Rural Rehabilitation. The assessment team noted that the number of returnees at this transit centre has fallen compared to a week or two ago. The number of returnees coming through both the Zaranj and Nimroz transit centres is also down over the past week. So far, over 70,000 returnees have come through Zaranj and Islam Qala in Herat.
The Farah mission attended a meeting chaired by the Governor and identified steps and recommendations to support the provincial authorities in preparing an emergency response plan for both short and long-term help.
WFP has provided one month's food rations for over two hundred and fifty families in and around Farah city and a food convoy is on its way this week to the Zaranj transit centre. The UN is currently watching the situation and will decide later this week whether food for an additional nine hundred families in Farah province is needed.
At the national level, I understand that ongoing talks have been taking place between the Government of Afghanistan and the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran to deal with the issue of deportations. Items on the agenda included the manner in which deportations are conducted, the time of day they are carried out and the treatment of deportees.
Recommendations from these talks include the instigation of a more effective registration system through coordination between the Departments of Rural Rehabilitation in Farah and Nimroz to ensure that all aid reaches the most needy, and also a plan for the preparation of direct UN emergency assistance through provision of both food and non-food items.
ATTACKS ON UN FOOD CONVOYS
Over the past eleven months there have been sixteen incidents in which UN food convoys of the World Food Programme have been attacked, and food and vehicles damaged or stolen. Most of these attacks have been in the south of the country along the ring road. Of these sixteen attacks, seven have occurred since the start of April. We have also had reports of attacks on food convoys of other aid organisations. The UN has been working in Afghanistan for half a century to help people in need, and these food supplies are destined for some of the country's most vulnerable people in some of the most vulnerable communities. We call upon those responsible to immediately halt these acts, which are robbing Afghanistan of badly needed aid.
WFP - FOOD FOR WORK PROGRAMME
The World Food Programme (WFP), under its "Food for Work" programme is currently providing over five hundred tons of food to employees of the Irrigation Department in Nangarhar province for canal cleaning projects in Bati Kot, Gushta and Sherzad districts.
WFP was approached by the Community Development Councils from these districts for help to support the work they had started to rejuvenate the irrigation canals.
In Sherzad district, over eight hundred families will benefit from this; in Bati Kot, over seven hundred families will benefit, while in Goshta, six hundred families will be helped by this programme.
UPDATE ON FLOODING IN BADAKSHAN AND TAKHAR
As you probably know, floods triggered by heavy rains last week killed a number of people and destroyed hundreds of homes in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan province. Several hundred people have died from floods in recent months across the country and we continue to monitor the situation.
The World Food Programme has so far distributed over two hundred tons of food to some 1,700 flood affected households in nine districts of Badakhshan.
The districts covered are Baharak, Warduj, Teshkan, Darayem, Argo, Tagab kishem, Yawan, Kuran wa Munjan, Jurm and Yaftal Payan.
UNICEF is also in the process of distributing over nine hundred family kits, three hundred blankets, six hundred warm jackets, nine hundred plastic sheets and nearly two thousand jerry cans for affected families.
The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development has contributed two hundred tents and has sent support teams to conduct further assessments and to monitor the distribution of aid.
WFP trucks have also departed this morning to Warsaj and Farkhar districts of Takhar province to distribute over thirty-five tons of mixed food items for over three hundred affected families. WFP has received a request to help a further eighty families in Kaori village near Tagab Kishem which will be dispatched later today.
TWO NEW SCHOOLS OPEN IN HELMAND
Two new schools opened this past week in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand. The total cost of the schools, one for boys and one for girls, is some US$82,000 which was provided by the World Bank, through the Ministry of Education.
The opening ceremony was attended by the Governor of Helmand province Assadullah Wafa, and 950 girls and boys will study in these two new schools.
Despite ongoing insecurity in Helmand, the opening of these schools is a demonstration by the Government of Afghanistan of its commitment to seeing that the children and future leaders of this country are able to get the education they need and deserve.
Since 2001, more than six million children have returned to school, thirty-five percent of them girls. And we want to see these numbers continuing to increase.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question - BBC: You mentioned sixteen attacks on WFP food convoys. I want to know what will be the consequences of these incidents. Are you concerned about this? If this trend continues, what will be its impact?
Spokesperson: This is humanitarian aid and very simply the consequences mean that the intended recipients are not getting food that has been provided for them on time. We are trying to find ways of ensuring that those people most in need do get the help they need and deserve, but clearly when you have your food trucks robbed, drivers attacked, vehicles destroyed and so on, that represents a net loss to the aid effort. We want people to respect the fact that there are humanitarian needs in this country and that those humanitarian supplies have to be able to get through.
Question - IRIN: A couple of weeks ago when I was in Nimroz, the Governor of the province said that seventy percent of the 35,000 returnees have gone to Farah province. You said that an assessment mission visited there. What are the mission's findings?
Spokesperson: You are correct that many of those returnees have indeed gone to Farah. I do not have any further information on the assessment mission, other than what I have told you already, but the broad concerns we have relate to the manner in which people are being returned from Iran: It needs to be orderly, humane and conducted in a gradual and proper manner. As you know, there have been reports of families being split up; we are concerned about those immediate issues, and also about transportation issues in getting people back to their homes.
Question - Rah-e Nejat (translated from Dari): The Ministry of Public Health has announced that if the deportation of Afghans continues in this manner, it will result in a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the Iranian authorities are still continuing the deportation of Afghans - has UN raised this issue with the Iranian Government?
Spokesperson: We have seen discussions between the two countries over this past weekend and I think this is the right way to proceed and this is a positive development. I think there is also, at least for the time being, a reduction in the number of people crossing the border, so let's hope that these things continue tp proceed in a positive direction. With regard to the second part of your question, a number of UN agencies including UNHCR, WFP, UNAMA and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have been trying to assist the people who are being returned. However the overall issue is primarily one that has to be resolved between the two Governments.
Question - Shamshad TV (translated from Dari): Some weeks ago, Parliament unseated two Government Ministers. What is UNAMA's stand on this issue? Secondly, if the issue of the migrants is not resolved, what consequences would it have on relations between the two countries [Afghanistan and Iran] and what would be the possible effect of this on the deportation of Afghans from Iran?
Spokesperson: Thank you for the question. Building rule of law in Afghanistan is a UNAMA priority. We watch closely to see how laws and procedures are being handled and we make our views clear when we think matters are going in the wrong direction. Rule of law only exists if laws and procedures are followed closely. If differences of interpretation arise, these must be quickly resolved. At present, there are differences of views over whether parliament has the power to dismiss ministers. This is far too important an issue to be left open, as it presents a risk of instability for present and future governments. UNAMA's view is that the Constitution provides for votes of censure of confidence in ministers, but does not expressly give Parliament the right to dismiss ministers. The power to dismiss ministers rests with the President. The Wolesi Jirga [the national assembly's lower house] retains its right to confirm ministers appointed by the President. But on the issue of dismissals of Ministers, we would welcome this being quickly resolved by the Supreme Court in accordance with its role under the Constitution.
Regarding the second part of your question about relations between Afghanistan and Iran, yes, of course it is important when issues like this arise, that they be quickly resolved. This is why we are pleased to see that talks have been taking place between the two governments over the last few days. We think it is important that when problems such as this arise, they are resolved quickly and smoothly and we hope this process continues.
Question - Pahjwok (translated from Dari): I would like to know which side UNAMA supports - the Parliament that has impeached the Minister, or the Government, that is still insisting that the Minister remains.
Spokesperson: The power to interpret the Constitution rests with the Supreme Court only, and it is for the Supreme Court to resolve that, in accordance with its role under the Constitution. The Supreme Court has that role, not UNAMA.
Question - BBC (translated from Dari): Could you please go into further details on the attacks you referred to on WFP food convoys? For example, do you know if the attackers are Taliban? Were there any casualties? When did these events happen?
Spokesperson: The attacks on the convoys have mainly occurred on the southern part of the ring road. Many of these have been in the Farah / northern Helmand area. But there have been other attacks too, and as I mentioned and it is not only UN food convoys that have been targeted, other aid organisations are also affected. On the question as to whether they are Taliban or not, I don't think we know in all instances who is behind these attacks. The attacks took place over the last eleven months and there have been sixteen such attacks involving WFP convoys. Seven of those have occurred since the start of April.
Thank you all.