Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 11 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. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, reached Kabul around 9:00 am this morning after a very brief and busy stopover in Islamabad. He met with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and with General Mohammad Qasim Fahim. He is also expected to have talks with Mr. Burhanuddin Rabbani and Mr. Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, and possibly also with Mr. Hamid Karzai, the designated head of the interim administration.

Mr. Brahimi will also have a special meeting and share Iftar with UN staff later today, before he addresses the media at a 6:30 pm press conference (7:00 pm Islamabad time or 9:00 am New York time). He will travel back to Islamabad tomorrow morning and is scheduled to have several meetings -which include an appointment with President Musharraf. In the afternoon, he will start making his way back to New York.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General --in a report on Afghanistan released yesterday and that we are making available to you-- said the events of 11 September had made it easier to realize international objectives for Afghanistan. "The international community's renewed focus on Afghanistan after years of neglect, and the realization that a military campaign to root out terrorism from Afghanistan required a simultaneous political process leading to the formation of a legitimate Afghan government, offer renewed hope to the Afghan people that they may at last get the kind of government to which they have long aspired."

"The challenge that faces us now is to speed up the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Afghans, to help chart a path that will lead to a stable and unified Afghanistan and rebuild a country shattered by over two decades of war," the report states.

From the World Health Organization (WHO), we have learned that over 100 health workers are in the midst of completing a major measles vaccination campaign in the Panjsher Valley -just on time ensure that there will be no measles outbreaks during the critical winter months. The eight-day campaign, supported by WHO, UNICEF, MSF and Aide Medicale Internationale, will reach about 70,000 children with measles vaccine, in all villages running up and down the length of the valley.

While measles is a relatively benign disease in most places, it is a major killer in countries like Afghanistan, where it is estimated that 30,000 children a year die of measles. WHO has received a report about a measles outbreak in Ghor province and is waiting for more details on this.

The disease weakens the immune system, so if children don't die of measles itself, they die from other diseases which attack them while their system is down. The measles vaccination campaign is the first to reach the Panjsher valley, one of many to come as part of a countrywide effort to improve routine immunization.

Along with training and monitoring, WHO staff also ensured surveillance for polio was in place in the valley. While polio still circulates in southern Afghanistan, just 11 cases have been found so far this year. The major reduction in polio cases is a result of mass vaccination campaigns reaching more than 5 million children in this country.

The WHO Kabul office has just sent a truck loaded with medicines and essential equipment to Parwan province. A WHO medical officer inspected the hospital last week - and found it lacking in the barest of essentials. For example, an operation to treat appendicitis was being carried out on a regular office table - as they had no operating tables at the hospital. To fill this critical gap, WHO has sent an operating table to the hospital along with the medicines and equipment. The WHO is continuing to assess needs throughout Afghanistan, and will supply emergency equipment as required.

The WHO is concerned about an increasing numbers of ARI (acute respiratory infection) cases reported in Ghazni. These infections, including pneumonia, are the number one killer of children in Afghanistan and are especially serious in the winter months. WHO is providing essential drugs to help control these infections to the Ghazni hospital.

Rabies is also proving to be a threat in the region. This year, 79 rabies cases are reported, including 17 new cases requiring treatment. The city of Herat has also reported several rabies cases in the last two weeks, including two deaths. WHO has been providing anti-rabies vaccines -but more are being requested.

** Einar Holtet, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan

Each day we - together with our system partners - come here and inform you about the number of IDPs in a particular region, tell you about the exact amount of food sent to a region, or brief you about security situation that affects our assistance efforts. These are concrete facts and thus are quantifiable. What, however, remains untold is how such numbers are determined, how decisions are reached, how the actual shipments are made and how needy people are reached. This is where our co-ordination efforts come to play a role; this is the invisible part of the aid effort.

At the centre of this massive co-ordination effort lies the Office of the Regional Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan, which serves as the hub.

Co-ordination, by its very nature, is collaborative. In case of the UN assistance programme for Afghanistan, we have developed a collective that includes not only the members of the UN family organizations, but also the NGOs. Everyone brings forth whatever resource they can offer, material and human.

Before priorities are determined and targets are set, people at different levels - from the local to the regional to the global - are consulted and the information received is collated. It is a common goal that we jointly pursue. Everyone is involved; everyone is responsible. By working together as a team we manage to avoid duplication and prevent gaps. This also helps us maximize the use of available resources.

A critical link in the UN's humanitarian efforts is the network of Regional Co-ordination Boards (RCBs). Set up throughout Afghanistan, RCBs support the overall co-ordination between policy formulation and its implementation. They are at the frontline of our operation. They are also the foot soldiers who actually deliver the assistance to those most in need. In addition, joint UN offices set up in key outposts in countries neighbouring Afghanistan provide a network that keeps alive cross-border logistics supply and effective flow of information. Crucial support also comes from UN Resident Co-ordinators in Islamabad, Tehran, Ashkhabad, Tashkent, and Termez, as well as government officials in neighbouring countries.

Other "invisible" players in the entire scheme of things are the sectoral task forces. Several task forces have been set up, dealing with such sectoral issues as water, food, shelter, internal displacement etc. There are also task forces dealing with regional needs. Each participating partner, be it a UN agency or an NGO, identifies its own "focal point" who participates in sectoral task forces where information is shared, policy guidelines are discussed, available resources are pooled and an action plan is determined.

Reinforcing this, a system of common services has been put in place for use by all participating partners. The success of the UN assistance efforts also depends on how well we manage these resources. Again, co-ordination plays a key role. There are six key elements supporting the provision of common services: A common security telecommunications services; A UN field security team; A unified public information outlet; A Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC); A Joint Logistics Cell; and UN Flight Operations.

So this is what "co-ordination" is all about. Without it, our efforts will resemble a band without a conductor. Some areas will receive too much, some areas too little. There will be duplication and overlap, making the whole effort ineffective. In the long run, this could lead to wastefulness. Although "co-ordination" is less visible than food deliveries or tents, this "glue" that keeps all the pieces in place comes with a price tag. Under the revised Donor Alert, $33.35 million has been earmarked for co-ordination for the period from October 2001 to March 2001. So far, only $10.7 million has been received, thus leaving a gap of over $22.65 million.

Because it is invisible, it is sometimes hard to obtain funds for co-ordination. But if one adds up the dollars and cents it saves, the cost of co-ordination will prove cheap by comparison.

** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF

Good afternoon. A number of updates for your attention today on UNICEF activities related to emergency relief for Afghan children and women, with the onset of winter conditions in many parts of the country.

In Herat, as part of its emergency nutrition intervention for the Western Region, UNICEF has provided 14-hundred kilograms of UNIMIX, a high-energy porridge, to a partner NGO, to be used in a program of supplementary feeding. This project, to be carried out in local camps and settlements for internally displaced Afghans, is expected to benefit 825 children under the age of five.

UNICEF and another partner NGO are preparing for a nutrition intervention in the Chakcharan District of Ghor Province. We're concerned that wintry conditions will soon make this area difficult to access and therefore all the more vulnerable. UNICEF this week plans to dispatch 51 metric tonnenes of UNIMIX and 9.5 metric tonnenes of vegetable oil to for a supplementary feeding program benefiting some 13-hundred children under the age of five, and almost 3-thousand women who are either pregnant or have just given birth.

In Kabul, UNICEF is working with three NGOs to provide children's clothing, winter boots, plastic sheeting and other non-food items for some 35-hundred IDP families living in the Panjshir Valley.

And finally in Faizabad, UNICEF is exploring the possible distribution of emergency winter items among widows, people living with disability and other vulnerable groups in areas affected by drought. One such area would be the Ragh District, and we're currently discussing distribution there with the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee.

** Khaled Mansour, Spokesperson for WFP

The World Food Programme has been stepping up food deliveries into Afghanistan to provide some one million poor people who live in mountainous areas in central and northeast Afghanistan with enough food to sustain them through the winter months, when the high mountain passes are blocked by snow.

So far we have covered the needs of about 500,000 people who live in the Hazarajat area in the central highland and WFP continues to move food by trucks and planes to the western slopes of the Hindukush (Ghor and Badghis) and to northeast Afghanistan to provide for the rest.

As part of these efforts, an airlift that started late November from Koliyab, south Tajikistan, to Faizabad in northeast Afghanistan has so far made it possible to move more than 400 tonnes by air. WFP uses a Hercules-C130 planes that make about three flights to Faizabad a day, delivering 51 tonnes each day. Deliveries by trucks from Kyrgyzstan via Tajikistan only this month exceeded 1,500 tonnes. WFP is helping more than 274,000 people in areas affected by snow in the northeast.

In Kabul, the citywide distribution that started on Saturday has covered about 56,000 families (336,000 people) so far. Each family receives a 50 kilo bag of wheat. WFP has doubled the number of distribution points in the City and the distribution could be stretched into next week if necessary.

The pictures of crowding poor people at distribution sites in Kabul that appeared in Television and newspapers were largely related to a mistake made in local radio broadcasts that made people think that the food distribution would occur at one time only. This led to a rush of people holding food coupons for subsequent distributions to all distribution points on Saturday. With the increased number of distribution sites and days of distribution, we hope it is going to be much more orderly.

In Kandahar province, the humanitarian situation remains bad and security conditions volatile. Following the surrender of the Taleban, on 7 December, a group of 12 armed men from a certain tribe entered the WFP warehouse in Spinboldak and took a petrol generator, a photo-copier, and a High Frequency communication radio. We are watching the situation very closely and hope that sooner rather than later the Afghan factions and the new authority can stabilize the situation and enable the humanitarian workers to return.

In Herat, a de-mining expert cleared the WFP warehouse compound of an un-exploded ordinance (UXO) over the weekend and is now preparing cluster bomb awareness training as well as identifying cluster bomb sites around 9 locations within the City. A lot of munitions have been blown into the warehouse site from the explosion of cluster bombs at a site nearby. WFP continues the distribution of food aid to more than 350,000 IDPs in Maslakh and five other IDP camps in Herat area.

As I mentioned yesterday, WFP sent 437 tonnes of food to Kunduz over the weekend for 51,000 people who had not received any assistance since the conflict began.

The condition of these people, from reports we received today, are "extremely difficult and rough". In the Bagh-e-Sherkat IDP camp for example, where 22,000 people live, many had no shelter, blankets, nor food for nearly one month, when the city was entirely cut-off from the outside world due to the fighting. Our distribution partner - IOM - had their offices occupied by the Taliban on November 8 and were not able to return until last week - Dec. 5. Elders from the IDP camp reported that 176 people - many of whom were children - had died since September because of the deteriorating conditions.

We intend to continue delivering food to Kunduz to help people through the harsh winter months. WFP has been doing its best. We are talking here about extremely difficult terrain and environment. An area that has just gone through widespread military hostilities. We hope the situation will improve fast to enable us to have a better access there.

We also have to take into account that Kunduz is an agricultural province that has traditionally grown rice, wheat and fruit - much of it for export. So their extended isolation and heavy reliance on assistance is a particular anomaly. We are not sure whether people have been able to plant this season and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

To give you an overall picture of how we have been doing so far in December. Only over the past weekend, WFP has sent more than 6200 tonnes of food into Afghanistan bringing the total amount of food sent from the four neighbouring countries into Afghanistan this month to about 30,000 tonnes of food - enough to feed more than 3.5 million people. According to our partner NGOs, who help distribute a large part of the food to areas that WFP has determined in need of food aid, about 25,500 tonnes of food have actually been distributed this month - enough for more than three million people.

** Fatoumata Kaba, Spokesperson for UNHCR

Good afternoon. The prospects of a massive influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan are receding with the ongoing peace settlement in Afghanistan. However, UNHCR will continue to assist those who have already entered Pakistan in the camps it newly established at Roghani and Mohamed Khel in Balochistan, as well as at Kotkai and Old Bagzai in the North West Frontier Province. Many more of our camps are ready to host additional refugees as our relocation program continues. Nearly 200,000 new Afghan refugees are estimated to have entered Pakistan, mainly through illegal crossing points since 11 September.

On the other hand, UNHCR is also planning the voluntary return of Afghans, which is likely to start on a large scale in the Spring. In the meantime, we will collect data on the refugees' places of origin, profession, age as well as other demographic data that we will share with our partners in order to properly plan assistance for returnees.

In the immediate future, we plan to assist 500,000 internally displaced Afghans some of whom are freshly returned from Iran and, to a lesser extent, from Pakistan. At the Chaman border yesterday about 1,500 refugees returned to Afghanistan using this border crossing point linking Pakistan to southern Afghanistan. It is the single largest number of returns observed in Chaman while in Iran an average of 1,000 Afghans continue to return home.

In Kabul Province, the second phase of the emergency distribution of UNHCR aid to vulnerable families is scheduled to start tomorrow. As many as 1,500 families have been registered in the districts neighbouring Kabul City.

We are also working out a return plan in the Shomali Plain and it should be ready this week for presentation to our partners. UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration conducted a one-day assessment mission to Panjshir that confirmed the eagerness of the displaced communities to return to Shomali. However, clearance of mine areas is important before the start of a large movement back to Shomali.

In Tajikistan, a trial Russian-Tajik convoy left Dushanbe to travel through Nijni Pyanjj and Kunduz to Kabul on Sunday. If all goes well, UNHCR and other aid agencies are prepared to move some 7,000 tonnenes of supplies through this crossing in the course of this month. This crossing point was opened last Saturday.

In Iran, a Mashhad-Herat convoy, that was supposed to reach its destination yesterday, has been delayed the Dogharoun border point due to unexpected clearance problems. The 11-truck convoy is carrying tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking stoves, soap and jerry cans. We hope to have resolved the issue later today.