Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 06 Dec 2001

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (excluding questions and answers session).

** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre

Good afternoon. Following the successful conclusion of the UN Talks in Bonn, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warmly congratulated all concerned. He noted that the "Provisional Arrangements" call for the UN System to play a multi-faceted role in their implementation. He also assured the Afghan people that "the United Nations stands ready to help them reach peace, stability and prosperity." A complete statement is available at the back of the room.

For his part, the President of the Security Council, Mr. Moctar Ouane, welcomed the agreement reached in Bonn. He stated: "The members of the Security Council urge the parties to work together from now on in good faith to implement the agreement in full." That text is also going to be distributed.

As for the Special Representative Mr. Brahimi, he is in Berlin at the Annual Meeting of the Afghanistan Support Group. He is expected to travel to this region very soon -and most certainly to be present in Kabul for the hand-over to the Interim Authority, but we do not have details to share with you at this time.

For those of you who have read the Bonn Agreement carefully, and I'm sure all of you have, you probably noticed a reference in Annex II to the request by the Afghan signatories that "the United Nations shall have the right to investigate human rights violations and, where necessary, recommend corrective action. It will also be responsible for the development and implementation of a programme of human rights education to promote respect for and understanding of human rights."

This leads me to mention the statement read by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Mary Robinson, in Berlin yesterday, and that we will make available in full. She said in her statement: "If the efforts of the Afghan people and the international community are to succeed, (the future of the country) must be built upon strong foundations of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Ms. Robinson outlined a series of rights and ways to ensure their protection. She then stressed that these objectives will require the setting up of a strong human rights component as part of the UN's effort in Afghanistan. She said: "A well defined and well funded human rights presence needs to undertake human rights monitoring and reporting, provide protection and advice on the ground, promote human rights capacity building and guide transitional justice initiatives."

Meanwhile, here in Islamabad, the UN survey team I mentioned earlier this week -and which will assess support requirements for a possible enhanced UN presence in the region- arrived in Islamabad this morning. The team is led by Mr. Martin Barber and includes a total of 17 specialists. They have already started having meetings and will travel to Afghanistan very shortly.

** Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson for UNHCR

UN High Commissioner for Refugee Ruud Lubbers welcomed yesterday's Agreement on Afghanistan signed near Bonn, hailing it as "an important and historic milestone."

Addressing the Afghan Support Group yesterday in Berlin, Mr. Lubbers noted that the return of the world's largest population of refugees and displaced people will have a significant impact on the stabilization, rehabilitation and economic recovery of Afghanistan.

UNHCR reaffirms its support in creating a lasting peace in Afghanistan. We will continue to work toward four objectives in the coming months: 1. Prepare for the safe and voluntary repatriation of refugees; 2. Help stabilize the situation within Afghanistan by providing protection and assistance to internally displaced people; 3. Maintain adequate emergency response capacity in the region; and 4. Continue to provide protection and assistance to refugees in countries of asylum.

In our two-pronged approach, to assist both inside and outside Afghanistan, UNHCR's planning figure for the next six months is to assist up to 500,000 displaced people and returnees in Afghanistan, while maintaining preparedness for up to 380,000 refugee arrivals in the neighbouring countries.

In the North West Frontier Province, UNHCR will resume the relocation of refugees from Peshawar and Jalozai camp on Saturday. The authorities have agreed yesterday to provide heightened security, following Tuesday night's attack on our staff near Peshawar.

We sincerely hope that it was a one-off incident and that security will be assured, not only for our staff but particularly for the refugees that we're trying to help. As an indication of the refugee's wish to be moved out from the over-crowded Jalozai camp to a proper site, some 400 refugees came forward to express their disappointment over their cancelled transfer on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the rate of return from Iran to western Afghanistan is increasing in the past days. Yesterday, we had a record of 2,000 Afghans crossing the Dogharoun border returning mainly to Herat. More than 24,000 refugees have returned since the Taliban's hold on Herat was broken on 12 November. A few of them are heading back to their homes as far eastward as Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces in the northwest tip of the war-torn country.

As soon as security allows, we hope to re-open our office in Islam Qala, across from Dogharoun, to monitor the border and the returns from Iran.

A convoy of 6 trucks are scheduled to leave Turkmenistan today for Afghanistan, carrying 1,000 tents, 7,000 blankets, 4,000 sleeping bags, 100 heating stoves 480 cooking stoves and 5,000 soap bars. UNHCR plans to delivery the supplies to displaced people in Badghis Province, northeast of Herat. Part of the shipment (3,000 blankets and 1,500 soap) will be distributed to displaced people in Maimana in Faryab province, further north.

During the last days, UNHCR Herat delivered 100 tents, 1,000 blankets, 100 plastic sheeting and 20 school tents (5-6 family-size) to displaced people in Maslak and surrounding areas.

While UNHCR is prepared eventually to assist the voluntary return of Afghan refugees once their safety is assured in Afghanistan, we must repeat our appeal to countries of asylum not to forcibly return refugees at this time. We are still seeing refugees fleeing Afghanistan, especially from the southern and eastern part of the country.

Yesterday, there were still more than 2,000 people stuck in the no-man's land at the Chaman border, fleeing for safety. UNHCR has transferred over 16,000 refugees to Roghani camp from Kili Faizo camp at the border.

** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF

Good afternoon. The head of the UNICEF sub-office in Mazar reports from Termez that the latest batch of winter emergency relief goods sent from Termez to Tairatan were health-related-including birthing kits, water purification tablets and syringes.

On the crucial topic of education, UNICEF continues to negotiate with authorities in Hairatan to open schools for girls there and invite female teachers to return to the classroom.

Back on the first of this month, 550 girl students and 42 female teachers joined 620 boy students and 20 male teachers at a local school, which has been receiving educational supplies and textbooks from UNICEF.

UNICEF is also working with a national NGO, having created 50 classes in the Sakhi IDP camp in Mazar to benefit around 5,000 children this winter. Local teachers and supervisors, both men and women, have been hired for the programme.

In Faizabad, UNICEF field staff say that they are getting ready to distribute non-food items for displaced Afghans living with host families in the Argo district. The distribution of blankets, sweaters and shoes will be in collaboration with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

Also in Faizabad, 15 teams of teachers have just finished a refresher training course in health education, and are going to start work on a five-month project this week, in which 13 teams of women will provide health education to mothers in the home, and two teams of men will do the same for fathers through mosques.

Still waiting for an update from Herat, meanwhile, where the UNICEF-Afghanistan country office representative has been since yesterday, to get a closer look at the conditions children are facing in the western region, and to make sure that enough help is available for children and families to survive this winter--a concern that is urgent elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Most immediately, this means heightening our efforts to deliver and distribute winter emergency aid to IDPs-Afghans who've had to leave their places of origin. Again, the representative will have the latest on his mission, upon his return to Islamabad later this afternoon.

And finally, we're happy to report that the Spanish NFO Fundacion CEAR (which stands for Comision Espanola de Ayuda al Refugiado) has given US$ 90,000 worth of donations in kind, including 15,000 winter jackets and 650 tents, for distribution to needy Afghans this winter.

The foundation, which has been working with the Spanish government to send humanitarian aid to Afghans in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is preparing to donate more tents and blankets. The Secretary-General of the NGO, Ms. Maria Jesus Arsuaga, was in the region last month to assess the current situation.

** Christine McNab, Spokesperson for WHO

WHO is collecting health data from the IDP camps in the Herat area where approximately 350,000 people are living. About half the people who managed to consult health staff are suffering acute respiratory infection. Over 2100 cases were reported last week alone. These infections, which include pneumonia, can be extremely serious, and are the number one killer in Afghanistan. Diarrhoeal diseases were also prevalent - another deadly illness. Other diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid, and measles have been reported in the camps.

The WHO notes the situation in the Maslakh camp is especially serious, with thousands of people exposed to the elements, languishing without adequate shelter as winter arrives.

In general, the WHO is attempting to get better data on deaths in the camps, which is now considered unreliable. To assist with sanitation, WHO has also begun building 200 latrines in the Maslakh camp. Overall, WHO continues to provide essential medicines and equipment to the health facilities in Herat.

In the eastern region, WHO is working with local health authorities and NGOs to control the ongoing outbreak of malaria, particularly in Laghman province.

The WHO has found the incidence of malaria has actually increased since October. Over 1,250 cases were recorded in just two hospitals in November, including 38 deaths. A prevalence of Plasmodium Falciparum - the most deadly form of malaria, is reported. WHO has provided anti-malarial drugs to the affected areas, and is circulating malaria control guidelines in Pashto to health clinics.

WHO estimates there are 2-3 million cases of malaria in Afghanistan each year, Malaria transmission should normally drop dramatically this month as the temperature cools.

We have reports that the health situation in Ghazni and the southeastern region in general continues to worsen, with fewer staff available, poor communications and transportation due to looting.

There is a reported increase in acute respiratory infections, and suggestion that malnutrition in children and pregnant women will continue to worsen. Overall in 2001, hospital reports indicate that 15% of children in hospital were severely malnourished. The WHO office believes there is a heightened risk of a measles outbreak in the region, with more children susceptible as a result of not being vaccinated.

WHO continues to supply essential medical supplies and drugs to the health facilities in the region in cooperation with local health authorities and NGOs.

** Lindsey Davies, Spokesperson for WFP

In order to boost food supplies to the Provinces of Ghor and Badghis in the central west of Afghanistan, WFP will start today, to rail food from Turkmenabad in Turkmenistan to the border town of Torghundi, which will be transhipped to trucks and despatched through Herat directly onto Ghor and Badghis.

Over the next six days, 12,000 tonnes of food will be taken by rail to the border town for onward transhipment. That is three trains of 4,000 tonnes every other day. WFP estimates about 436,000 people need food assistance in these two provinces, which is about 21,800 tonnes of food for six months.

WFP has delivered almost half of the amount needed and will continue to give extremely high priority to food deliveries in these provinces by despatching food both directly from its warehouses in Herat and across the border from Turkmenabad.

This is part of WFP's highly complex and effective spiders web of logistics network, using supply routes running out of five countries and maximising a combination of aircraft, rail, barge and road deliveries.

At any one time, the Agency has over 2,000 trucks of all shapes, sizes and ages transporting food aid along its delivery network. WFP has also set up a temporary airlift from Tajikistan to Faizabad in the north east region which restarted yesterday after a few days of bad weather, as well as built extra storage facilities, bought and contracted more trucks and installed telecommunications networks inside Afghanistan.

Today WFP hopes to restart the barge operation from Termez in south Uzbekistan to Hairaton in north Afghanistan. Food has not been barged for a couple of weeks due to insecurity on the other side of the river in Afghanistan. During that period, WFP moved food in the north through more stable supply routes. Now that the situation is a little less unstable, WFP is attempting to send the trucks from Hairaton through Mazar-I-Sharif, into areas of the north in the coming days. However, the success will be dependent on the security situation vastly improving.

It's not only logistics that is gearing up, but programming too. A WFP nutritionist will arrive soon to launch a nutritional assessment in the worst affected areas in the north of the country, where there are an estimated 3 million people most in need of food aid assistance.

The nutritionist will also coordinate a countrywide assessment involving other UN agencies and NGOs in order to draw up a complete picture of the nutritional needs in the country. Based on the nutritionist's findings, WFP will be able to adjust its food programming rations to appropriate levels as needed.

In addition to the general distribution for 6 million people, WFP is also working on a number of activities to address the differing levels of food security in the country. We are looking at getting involved in agricultural recovery, infrastructure rehabilitation, health, nutrition and education (through school feeding, school rehabilitation, teacher incentives and vocational training).

A couple of other news points: The house to house survey in Kabul is going well and is nearing completion with the actual distribution planned for the weekend. Based on information from the survey, WFP is going to add another 120,000 people to the citywide distribution, making it just over 1.1 million people who will receive food.

Finally, another two WFP staff will go into Afghanistan today, making it a total of 14 international staff in Kabul, Herat and Faizabad.

** Hasan Ferdous, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Co-ordinator for Afghanistan

Now that much of the northern Afghanistan is in the grip of winter, suffering of internally displaced persons, especially children, has worsened. At least one child and one adult are reportedly dead in IDP camp in Sari-Pul and 4 children in Camp 45 in Mazar. Some surveys suggest that the nutritional condition of IDPs around Mazar-i-Sharif is quite serious. A significant number of people are suffering from severe to moderate malnutrition.

The deteriorating condition of the internally displaced persons who have found shelter in IDP camps along the Afghanistan-Iran border is also a cause for growing concerns. Aid workers have not been able to distribute shelter materials, blankets and food to all newly arrived IDPs at the Makaki and Mile 46 camps. Without proper shelter, many of the displaced persons are digging holes in the ground in order to protect themselves from the sub-zero night temperatures and sandstorms. We understand that three children, aged one to six, have died in the camps from hunger and/or cold.

Earlier this week, UNOCHA's Regional Co-ordinator met in Herat with the local leadership and discussed with them, among other things, safety of UN Staff, protection of ethnic groups in IDP camps and female education.

Although Herat and the rest of western Afghanistan are relatively secure, the situation in much of the south continues to remain volatile. According to reports reaching Islamabad, several NGO staff have been beaten on the Herat - Kandahar road in the Farah region. We have also received reports of looting in Shindand.

Meanwhile, a UN security assessment to Bamyan has confirmed that it is safe for UN international staff to return. UNOCHA's Regional Coordinator for Bamyan is to return today and a meeting of the regional co-ordination board will take place on 8 December. The key challenge facing the UN and the aid community will be addressing the shelter needs of the internally displaced persons in the region.

The Salang Tunnel, which is a key link between Kabul and Mazar, has been re-opened to travellers. However, it remains heavily damaged and can be passed only by foot. The damage inside the tunnel is substantial and its reconstruction could take much longer than previously thought. Those planning to use the tunnel are advised to travel with caution.