Afghanistan + 3 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 10 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. Human Rights Day 2001, marked traditionally on 10 December, has special meaning this year as it falls on the same day that the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

In his message for the day, Mr Annan stresses that "in today's interconnected world, where conflict in one country can have repercussions for another far away, the world community must keep in mind the lesson that widespread human rights violations in any country are a danger signal. "As we unite to take action against terrorism, let us remember that the human rights we are defending are universal," he says.

The message is available for you at the back of the room, together with the text of the Nobel lecture Mr. Annan will deliver in about one hour. We are also distributing the Human Rights Day messages of UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Friday, Ms. Robinson said that this year's observance of the Day is taking place in the context of "worrying times" for the promotion and protection of human rights. She noted that while the attention is being focused on Afghanistan, she is also concerned about measures being taken, "very understandably and very rightly, to combat terrorism, but in doing so possibly eroding human rights and longstanding liberties, and even aspects of the rule of law."

Mrs. Robinson stressed that one of her Office's priorities in Afghanistan was working with other UN colleagues to prepare for that country's reconstruction and "putting strong emphasis on human rights." "There are many acute human rights concerns in Afghanistan, starting with the very serious humanitarian situation which was there before 11 September and was not getting adequate attention," she said.

Regarding the rights of women, Afghan women are having another opportunity to voice their priorities and hopes for the future of their country as they meet for a UN-sponsored roundtable in Brussels today and tomorrow. This is an event convened by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which will link to other processes on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Representatives from the Afghan Women's Summit for Democracy, held last week also in Brussels, are expected to brief participants on outcomes from consultations with women's groups.

UNIFEM said it was working to mobilize support and resources to ensure that Afghan women could fully participate in decision-making processes that shape their lives. "Afghan women must have a direct say in the decisions that shape their future, that of their country and their children," said UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer. "Their needs and recommendations must help guide the UN's work in Afghanistan." Meanwhile, I can confirm that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, will arrive in Islamabad tonight after a stopover in Rome yesterday where he met former King Mohammed Zaher Shah. Mr. Brahimi is scheduled to have a meeting at the Foreign Office upon arrival, and he will be going to Kabul tomorrow to hold talks with political leaders. The Special Representative's visit to the Afghan capital will be short. He will then fly back to New York, where he is expected to be present at the end of the week when the Security Council discusses the possibility of setting up a Multinational Force for Afghanistan. He will return to Kabul on 22 December for the expected transfer of power.

** Fatoumata Kaba, Spokesperson for UNHCR

Good afternoon. I would like to start with information on the situation at the Chaman border. The number of refugees stranded in the no man's land area has decreased to less than 30 families after the government lifted restrictions on the number of families we could register daily. This restriction only allowed UNHCR to register some 300 persons each day while 2,000 destitute Afghans were living out in the open for several days, brazing cold weather just outside of the Killi Faizo staging where empty tents could have accommodated them. We have since registered over 500 families and registration is ongoing.

UNHCR in Pakistan has so far relocated nearly 28,000 refugees to camps where they are receiving proper care. Of them 20,000 were relocated within Balochistan. In NWFP nearly 8,000 refugees have been relocated following resumption of the operation there on Saturday. As you remember, the operation was suspended after 2 UNHCR cars were ambushed near Peshawar. The incident is still under investigation but we now have added security for our convoys. While continuing the relocation, we are also increasing the services for the refugees on the new sites. In the North West Frontier Province, the construction of schools and mosques has started in Kotkai camp, Bajour Agency.

In the region, UNHCR certainly welcomes the opening yesterday of the Friendship Bridge linking Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. On Saturday, Tajikistan also opened the Nijni Pyandj - Shirkhan Bandar River crossing between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. These added supply routes should boost the delivery of aid to internally displaced Afghans in the northern and western parts of the country. However, UNHCR and its partners hope for a quick resolution of the conflict in southern and eastern Afghanistan to allow distribution of humanitarian assistance in these areas. Instability in the two regions makes it virtually impossible for any humanitarian organization to access the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.

Over the weekend, UNHCR sent relief supplies from Turkmenistan and Iran to western Afghanistan to assist several thousand Afghans in Herat and the provinces of Badghis and Faryab. The assistance package includes 17,000 blankets 4,000 sleeping bags and over 3,000 tents and plastic tarpaulins.

We are now preparing to send all our stock of relief items currently in Termez to Hairaton, using the Friendship Bridge. UNHCR is preparing to deliver aid for up to 65,000 displaced people and others in need in the Mazar area where our staff has returned today.

Finally a word on our funding situation: funding for UNHCR's relief operations in Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries currently stands at $67.4 million. This is enough for our operations until the end of this year. However we will need $181.8 million through June 2002. This includes $140 million for post Sept. 11 emergency requirements in the region and $41.8 million for our annual program budget for the last three months of 2001 and the first half of 2002. We hope that donors will continue to extend their generous support to UNHCR so that we can assist some 5 million Afghans in and out of their country.

** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF

As a follow up to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy's recent visit, during which "education" was a prominent topic, the UNICEF Sub-office in Kabul is visiting home-based schools in the city to collect the latest data. Survey results, by producing an accurate number of boys, girls and teachers at the home-based schools and the number of classrooms, will help identify what the supply requirements are so that UNICEF can continue to support these schools during the winter months.

UNICEF and Oxfam in Kabul are working together to distribute winter clothes, shoes and blankets for some 3,000 Hazara children mainly in Bamiyan, Yakawlang and Panjao.

In this region, as elsewhere in Afghanistan where temperatures are dropping and will keep dropping, UNICEF wants to be sure that the most vulnerable children are able to keep warm in the coming months. As seen in the past, young lives can succumb to the elements in Afghanistan.

From Herat, we've heard over the weekend about the arrival of similar winter relief goods from Mashad. The mattresses, children-size sweaters and heating stoves will be distributed in the western region in the coming weeks. Two health clinics in the Maslakh IDP camps, supported by UNICEF, have already received heating stoves and fuel.

An estimated 20,000 women and children, forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in the camps, are expected to attend the clinics this winter.

In Faizabad over the weekend, UNICEF has able to help distribute blankets, winter shoes and sweaters for around 300 IDP families in the Argu district, each family with an average of six members.

I also draw your attention to two items, among UNICEF's ongoing activities in Pakistan, as part of the overall emergency programme for Afghan children and women.

To assess the nutritional status of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, UNICEF, in close cooperation with UNHCR and Save the Children-UK, is conducting a survey in the provinces of Balochistan and NWFP. The survey has started in the older refugee camps of Quetta, with the following goals: A thorough understanding of the livelihoods of the camp population; A thorough understanding of food security in the camps and the impact on children; And to explore the possibility of starting a supplementary feeding program in the camps.

UNICEF also continues to provide both polio and measles vaccinations for all new arrivals in the camps of Killi Faizo, Mohammed Kheil, Rhogani, Basu and Kotkai.

** Khaled Mansour, Spokesperson for WFP

With security improving in Mazar and other areas in the north, it should make it easier for our NGO partners to access most of the people in need in the hunger belt.

Working with NGOs, WFP is trying to provide food aid to over 350,000 IDPs in the northern provinces. Day after day, we have been able to reach more of them. For example, over the weekend, we sent 437 tonnes of food to Kunduz province (enough to feed more than 8,500 families or 51,000 people). This is the first time these IDPs get food aid since September. When security risks become reasonable, we take them and move in.

Over the past few days WFP sent over 2,000 metric tones of food to NGOs such as International Rescue Committee (US), ACTED (French) and Peacewind (Japanese) who are distributing our food to 41,375 families (about 250,000 people) in the northern provinces.

The World Food Programme welcomes the decision of the Uzbek government To open the Friendship Bridge linking Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in the north. This road link will have a very positive impact on food deliveries to the hunger belt in north Afghanistan where more than three million people are dependent on food aid.

The Friendship Bridge will make it faster and easier and the expected return of our international staff to Mazar this week will give WFP a greater capacity to assess the situation and deliver assistance.

Previously, WFP was limited to using a slow-moving barge across the River Amu Darya from Termez in Uzbekistan to Hairaton in Afghanistan. WFP Will now be transporting food via both train and truck across the bridge into Afghanistan. Four rail wagons, with 60 metric tonnes of wheat each, should be crossing the bridge today. By the end of the month, we will also continue to use the barge to move food shipments.

The only major area of concern to us in terms of security is Kandahar area. Once the area stabilizes, hopefully soon, WFP will resume its badly needed activities in the region.

On Saturday, nearly 30,000 bags of what were distributed to the designated families in Kabul where about 1.3 million poor people are to receive a one-month food ration this week. This distribution process began with an unprecedented hiring 2,400 Afghan women (and 1,212 men) last week to do the initial house-to-house assessment. We will have updated distribution figures tomorrow for yesterday's and today's distribution.

The overall security situation in Afghanistan continues to be Complicated by reports of rising common criminal activity, looting, and highway robberies in the east and parts of the northwest. Furthermore, snow and winter conditions continue to pose logistical problems in the northeast region of Afghanistan.

As of today, WFP has finished dispatching of the needed 30,000 tonnes to Be distributed in Hazarajat in the central highland by our partner NGOs, but getting there before the snow does is an effort still in progress in the northeastern part of the country. This is where our avalanche control team is going this week. While the situation is slightly improving the race with time is not over yet. We are making progress. But we cannot rest yet.

** Knut Ostby, Acting Representative for UNDP Afghanistan

Afghanistan and the international community are up against an unprecedented challenge. Almost all vital infrastructure has been destroyed after more than 20 years of conflict. Food and water shortages have led to widespread malnutrition. An estimated 6 million people are threatened by hunger. This needs a solution which should be durable.

With respect to this joint preliminary assessment on recovery and reconstruction needs in Afghanistan is being prepared by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The assessment will be a tool for Afghanistan's authorities as well as the international community in their forthcoming reconstruction of the country.

The first priority is immediate help. But for the first time in many years we also have the possibility of moving beyond relief to recovery and reconstruction. Afghans are keenly aware of the unexpected perspectives that now have opened up and are determined to build on opportunities. They want to seize the moment to make a nation where their kids - girls and boys - can go to school, where mothers and fathers can go to work in the mornings and expect to come home in the evening to their families without threat of violence.

It is at the centre of every Afghan's concern and the message that security measures must be taken NOW is crystal clear. Building a police and a justice system is absolutely a priority. Beyond this, in recovery and reconstruction we are not starting from scratch. Current programs will be expanded. However, business as usual is not enough to take on the huge tasks ahead. However imperfectly, we must move NOW to establish first priorities so that we can urgently provide a real and early peace dividend in schools, in clinics, in the fields and streets.

The major scope is to identify and implement a program of activities during the coming three to five years. For matching the most pressing needs in recovery and reconstruction in 2002, we have to pay particular attention to immediate action programs and we have to facilitate the transition from emergency relief to economic and social recovery. The program will also be placed in a longer-term context of ten years and thus give an indication of total funding requirements.

At every step we must listen to the Afghans and they must be in the lead and centre-stage in the reconstruction process. Women's contributions will need to be at the forefront of development efforts.

The assessment will have to be both comprehensive and swift. The international aid community, led by the United Nations and its agencies, has to find practical solutions to pressing needs without wasting time.

The UNDP and the World Bank and Asian Development Bank will have established and mobilized the assessment teams by sectors, to be fully

operational this week. The teams start working immediately and will present a preliminary assessment before 15 January. This will in turn be presented to a ministerial meeting in Japan at the end of January, after which full international support should be given to restore Afghanistan and give its people the help they have needed for so long.

These are the steps of the process. What will be the content?

The key sectors for the assessment include short term and medium term programs for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Unexploded mines and ordnances are major obstacles to all normal life after two decades of war. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world with many accidents every year. A successful mine action program has been carried out for more than a decade and now its scope has to be expanded.

Similarly, as an important security measure, the assessment has to look into demobilisation and job opportunities for former soldiers. Young people must be given the opportunity to receive education and a meaningful job.

Governance priorities require special attention in a country which has been subject to such a massive brain drain. Reconstruction of efficient public institutions is essential for recovery and reconstruction. Institution-building and governance is in its nature complex and long-term. Certain basic functions at a central level are urgent and demand effective action. These include effective rule of law and security. Immediate support must be given for rebuilding of civil services.

Many communities in Afghanistan will receive large numbers of returning refugees and displaced people, who will also need support after months or years in involuntary exile. Out of Afghanistan's estimated total population of 25 million, approximately 3.5 - 4 million are refugees in neighbouring countries.

An immediate priority is to restore public and private health services. Malnutrition has made large numbers of children vulnerable to life-threatening diseases. In harsh winter conditions many have sparse clothing and little or no shelter to protect them from the cold. Key public health facilities have to be established quickly with special focus on communicable diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and malaria.

We must also find ways and means to re-establish schools. Education is imperative for development, and all efforts will have to aim at educating as many primary school students as possible.

Rapid recovery of farming means life for the millions. More than 80 per cent of the population of Afghanistan depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The assessment will review the current situation and analyse immediate requirements. Farmers' communities must become stabilized, first of all through peaceful environment and an effective rebuilding of law and order and security altogether. Displaced farmers and their families must be given back their belief that a dream of a better future is a realistic prospect.

Essential urban infrastructure and an integrated rural development approach have to be assessed. The influx of people into cities is likely to be large, and likewise the return of internally displaced people and refugees is likely to increase in villages. Key priorities for managing growth and services in the medium term have to be given.

Reconstruction of roads network, power utilities, telecommunications, water supply, sanitation and irrigation must be carried out rapidly. The assessment will survey the extent and condition of existing systems and give guidelines for rapid rehabilitation.

As for social development, the assessment team will pay particular attention to women's role and status. It has to be ensured that women can participate fully in the reconstruction and development of the country. Planning has to result in new opportunities and encourage women and girls to resume their education and choose their occupation.

Afghanistan's environment and natural resources have been severely impacted during the war and by drought and indiscriminate use. This has had a negative effect upon future resource capacity and livelihoods. The assessment will probably review critical resource management issues and environmental issues that have to be addressed immediately. Special attention should be given to water resource management.

Existing community groups are a real asset to be built upon. International assistance should be based upon existing local community capacities and existing programs for further development.

Economic growth in Afghanistan is likely to rely heavily on the private sector. Afghanistan has a rich history of entrepreneurship. Growth in the private sector is likely to be critical for jump-starting economic activity and to sustain recovery in the long term.

The need for reconstruction is enormous. Afghans are now trying to get together to rebuild their country. We - the international community - need to do the same to help them.