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. Some 12 hours ago in New York, the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the Bonn agreement on Provisional Arrangements for Afghanistan, with the adoption of Resolution 1383 --in which it declared its willingness to take further action to support the interim institutions. The 15-member body also called on all bilateral and multilateral donors to reaffirm, strengthen and implement their commitment to assist with the country's rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction.
The text of the resolution is made available to you at the back of the room.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking to reporters after the Council's vote, pointed out that the difficult tasks were ahead. Regarding the perceived need for a multinational force to maintain security in Afghanistan, he said: "The Council will be coming back to that later," he said, "I hope not much later because that is an essential part of the agreement."
Mr. Annan is now scheduled to travel to Oslo, where he will receive the Nobel Peace prize on Monday 10 December -which is also designated traditionally as Human Rights Day. On that occasion, the UN Information Centre will also have its own little ceremony -with an exhibition of paintings and a recitation of poems on the theme of human rights. It will take place at UNIC at 4:00 pm with Iftar dinner served around 5:00 pm, and you are all welcome.
** Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson for UNHCR
UNHCR continues to register Afghan refugees allowed into Pakistan at the Chaman border, transferring them to Roghani camp. While we welcome any developments in Afghanistan toward stability, refugees continue to gather at the border, with thousands of refugees waiting at the no man's land hoping to enter Pakistan.
Some refugees, especially the newer arrivals, may begin to return back to Afghanistan if the conflict and tension ease around Kandahar in the coming days. But, in the meantime, the situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile and UNHCR will continue to focus on assisting the new arrivals, as they are allowed into Pakistan, and to request the authorities to expedite the registration process.
UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner Kamal Morjane, who arrived yesterday in Islamabad, met with the Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Northern Areas and States & Frontier Regions, Mr. Abbas Sarfraz Khan and high officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior.
Mr. Sarfraz re-assured the Assistant High Commissioner that added security would be provided to our staff, following last Tuesday's attack. Mr. Morjane briefed the officials that UNHCR has begun working on a voluntary repatriation plan and requested the government's continued engagement in working jointly with UNHCR in assisting eventually the returns of refugees.
While we continue to wait for the so-called "Friendship Bridge" to re-open at Termez, Uzbekistan, the good news is that a corridor has opened up for shipping relief supplies from Tajikistan. EMERCOM, the Russian government's relief agency, expects to send a convoy of relief supplies to Kabul this weekend using the river crossing point between Nijni Piandj and Shirkhan Bandar, 200 km northeast of Kunduz.
In the west: In addition to the aid convoy of 14 trucks from Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad, which is due to arrive tomorrow in Herat, UNHCR aid trucks will depart from Mashad, Iran, to Herat this Sunday.
In the east: Following a rapid assessment of displaced people in the eastern region in November, UNHCR is prepared to send relief supplies for 14,000 families in Jalalabad area as early as next week. The tentative survey showed that there are an estimated 300,000 people displaced in eastern Afghanistan. The delivery of tents, blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, multipurpose stoves, soap, hygiene items and charcoal should cover the needs of about a quarter of the assessed needs.
** Christine McNab, Spokesperson for WHO
We'd like to tell you more about the status of WHO's delivery of medical supplies to Afghanistan. So far, WHO has delivered 60 emergency medical kits, which have been distributed throughout the country, including into remote regions. These have been transported over difficult roads, by foot and by donkey to ensure the people who need them.
Included in the kits are drugs, supplies and equipment - enough to supply 10,000 people for three months. One kit weighs almost 850 kilograms, and fills the back of a pick-up truck.
There are an additional 251 kits in the pipeline. Of these, 151 will be delivered before the end of December. The remaining will be delivered to restore supplies early in the new year. In total, these kits will provide enough medical supplies for 1.5 million underserved people over the next 6 months. These supplies are essential for saving lives during this crisis period.
WHO has been concerned however about recent transport difficulties, mainly due to insecurity in certain areas. For example, two of these emergency medical kits, along with over 200 additional boxes of drugs and equipment destined for Mazar, Ghazni and Kunduz, have been stuck in Peshawar, because of insecurity along the route. We are pleased to learn that two drivers will transport these essential supplies - and they departed this week.
Otherwise, we have 14 emergency health kits still stuck in Quetta, awaiting transport to Kandahar and Herat. We haven't yet had news as to the probable delivery date of these supplies.
We have had reports from many of the NGOs serving the health needs in the country. NGOs are reporting lootings in the north, some difficulties in the south, and continuing challenges in receiving adequate supplies. Despite these difficulties however, most report that their clinics and other services are up and running - including specialised clinics for critical areas such as malaria, tuberculosis, and maternal health.
WHO would like to warmly acknowledge the many NGOs who helped in the delivery of polio vaccine to over 5 million Afghan children - in September and again in November. NGOs were critical in ensuring as many children as possible received the vaccine - and continue to assist in the effort to eradicate polio by helping with surveillance for the disease. WHO would like to take this opportunity to thank these NGOs for their continued work, despite the difficult situation.
** Lindsey Davies, Spokesperson for WFP
With the changing events in Kandahar over the past 24 hours and expected in the coming days, WFP hopes it will soon be able to start moving supplies into the city as soon as security conditions on the ground allow.
WFP is extremely concerned about 238,000 people living in the city of Kandahar and its surrounding areas that we have not been able to reach since September due to the insecurity there. As soon as the situation stabilises in Kandahar and the road from Quetta to the city is safe enough - so the truckers feel confident to move along it -, we are ready to move in.
We have plenty of food stocks in Quetta - enough to feed the people who need it in the Kandahar region, we also have the trucks and the staff on standby.
Quetta-Kandahar-Herat is also a key supply route in WFP's strategy to attempt, together with its NGO partners, to deliver and distribute enough food to remote areas in Ghor, and Badghis before winter sets in. The sooner security can be re-established along this axis the higher the possibility we (WFP and NGOs) can deliver all the food it needs to.
Equally in Mazar, WFP local staff have been continuously working with itsimplementing partner, the International Rescue committee to deliver desperately needed food for 15,000 displaced people living in the city and the surrounding areas.
WFP has more food on the way from Turkmenabad - about 1600 tonnes - which will be distributed through IRC as soon as it arrives as and as soon as security allows.
In our ever-increasing effort to bring food to the people of Afghanistan, WFP has today sent on IOM trucks about 100mt of food from Kurgan Tepa in Tajikistan to Kunduz Province in Northern Afghanistan. In addition, we hope in the coming days to move 275 tons of food by barge from Termez to Hairaton which will then be trucked to Kunduz - security permitting.
This dual pronged approach to get assistance to about 8,000 families in Kunduz will be the first time that food has reached the people of Kunduz since early September. The people of Kunduz have suffered not only from the fighting, but from more than 3 years of drought that has reduced food stocks in the province to desperate levels. WFP hopes this will be the beginning of a regular supply line to this region.
This weekend WFP will dispatch to the Central Highlands the final shipments of wheat required to carry nearly a million people through the winter. In total, more than 33,000 tons of food will have been sent to this one region since September.
This has been no mean feat as many of you know, much of the Central Highlands is extremely remote and people often need to travel great distances over extremely difficult terrain in order to reach distribution points.
Finally, before this current crisis WFP had 34 international staff in Afghanistan, today we have 14. With this emergency operation still unfolding, WFP will certainly be increasing staffing levels as soon as the security situation allows.
This will go a long way to fully rebooting our network of sub-offices around the country, and restarting development projects. The more people we have working inside Afghanistan, the better.
** Antonio Donini, Deputy Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan
Good afternoon. I just returned from Herat last night. As you know the first United Nations flight went into Herat on Wednesday. United Nations international staff are returning rapidly to the city and as of tomorrow there will be 23 international United Nations staff there. International staff of NGOs are also beginning to return.
I was struck by the changed situation I found there. Despite great poverty, things are looking up. The people seem to be comfortable with the new authorities and there is a sense of optimism in the air.
The situation in the city is calm. While there are many armed people visible, their presence seems to be benign and not threatening. That said, while Herat itself and the surrounding area is secure, beyond a certain periphery, security is not assured.
I was also glad to see that the situation in the camps for displaced persons seems to be under control. There has been no disruption of food aid to the camps since 11 September. Moreover, large amounts of life saving non-food items are coming in from UNICEF, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. While conditions in the camps in Herat are well below international standards, people will have enough food, warm clothes, blankets and shelters to survive the winter.
However, a key problem right now is the overcrowding at Maslakh camp, by far the largest camp in Herat. This overcrowding has made registration and distribution more difficult. I am pleased to tell you that the authorities in Herat have agreed that Maslakh camp will be closed-that is, it will accept no more new arrivals-and the authorities will help the aid community to identify a new site.
Each day, 50 to 60 families are arriving in Maslakh, mainly from Ghor Province. A few are also arriving from Badghis Province and from as far away as Mazar-these last say they have left due to insecurity.
Despite optimism about the situation in the Herat camps, we still concerned about the situation in other areas of western Afghanistan and especially in the most severely affected districts of Ghor and Badghis Provinces. Aid agencies are stepping up assistance to Chagcharan in Ghor. We hope that this will help reduce the flow of desperate people with no option but to leave their villages before winter. We have plans in place to do the same in Badghis Province, but there are still security concerns in some areas.
We were also concerned about the plight of the urban poor in Herat City, which has been deteriorating for many months now. Salaries of employees of the civil service have not been paid in two months. There are many beggars in the street, and people are visibly congregating in front of the Governor's office seeking help. United Nations agencies and NGOs are stepping up both their presence and their programs in the city. They are also making contingency plans to help the displaced return to their homes in the spring.
Also in Herat, the Office of the United Nations Coordinator has deployed two international and two national mine action experts to help train local mine action staff in dealing with the new ordnance dropped by the Coalition forces.
During the visit, United Nations colleagues and I enjoyed a cordial meeting with Ismail Khan, Governor of Western Region, who stressed that there is an urgent need for recovery assistance in the region. He said that he was aware of the harassment of United Nations staff by previous authorities and stated that he understands both United Nations principles and means of operations.
Ismail Khan also stressed the importance of education for both boys and girls. UNICEF is now working rapidly to open some girls' schools in the area. His support for education was unequivocal. He said, and I quote: "There are two kinds of drought in Afghanistan-the drought that affects crops and the drought that affects minds."
He also raised another important issue: how to find ways to provide education and skills to older children and young adults who have missed out on education and have no skills except in carrying a gun.
Ismail Khan also said that there would be no restriction on the employment of women. Already some women are working in the municipality and in the police. He promised to increase female employment systematically and gradually.
** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF
Good afternoon. UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Eric Laroche, just back from his trip to the western region to get a closer look at the conditions facing children and families, described to me a scene in Herat, where --in the Maslakh IDP camps-- people who have had to flee their homes for safety and shelter are making mud and filling in the cracks of their modest huts.
The harshness of winter has certainly been on everyone's minds. In Maslakh, between 4 and 6 December, UNICEF was able to distribute winter emergency relief items to newly arrived families. The aid includes 10,000 blankets to benefit 5,000 families, more than 9,700 mattresses (one per family), 6,000 child-size sweaters (two per family) and 6,000 pairs of winter shoes for children (two per family). We're looking at an average of six people for each family unit.
UNICEF activities at the Maslakh camp, and elsewhere in Afghanistan, are about making sure the immediate survival needs of Afghan children and women are met -in a country where one in every four kids don't live to see his or her 5th birthday, where a woman dies in childbirth every half hour.
The longer-term, yet equally crucial issue of education was another constant theme during this latest visit to Herat. For instance, the UNICEF official was able to meet with more than 1,000 girl students and female teachers, at an official gathering called by local education authorities. And a topic of that meeting was seeking external support to resume education activities in the weeks to come.
Also, following talks with the Ismail Khan in Herat, the governor was quoted as saying that the role of education would be vital in Afghanistan's recovery and that it is urgent to keep young Afghans busy, not only in the classroom in the run-up to the start of the school year next march, but also in terms of encouraging sports and cultural activities.
UNICEF is currently assessing renovation work that needs to be done in schools in Herat, so that learning for both girls and boys can continue during the winter months.