Afghanistan + 3 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 13 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 question and answer session).

** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre

Good afternoon. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General had a one-hour meeting with Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar last night, which reconfirmed that Pakistan is fully supportive of the efforts of the United Nations in Afghanistan. Mr. Brahimi left this morning for New York, where he is expected late tonight. He will be providing advice to Security Council members as they debate over the next few days the possibility of creating a multinational force, and he is expected to return to the region some time in the middle of next week.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that in Kunduz, the health situation is very serious. The local hospital has been looted - with medicines, equipment and even beds stolen - leaving patients in a dire situation. People in the internally displaced persons camps are also reported to be suffering, with a prevalence of acute respiratory infections - common and deadly in the cold winter months. Some NGOs are now trying to attend to health needs, and WHO will provide emergency medicines and equipment as soon as they can be shipped.

In Jalalabad, WHO is working with other UN agencies and seeking ways to assist internally displaced people in the region. Several hundred families have reportedly moved away from the Tora Bora area and are staying with relatives. The WHO reports that the Pacheeragam health clinic in the area has been destroyed, and the remaining clinics in the region are difficult to access. WHO is prepared to send emergency health kits to the area as soon as possible. As in many areas of Afghanistan, acute respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia are reportedly on the rise in the area and will continue to severely affect people throughout the winter.

On a promising note, malaria cases in Langman province appear to be decreasing --an encouraging trend. In October and November, well over 2,000 cases of Plasmodium Falciparum -the most deadly form of the disease- were reported, including 147 deaths. WHO provided anti-malarial drugs to the affected areas. The incidence of malaria in general should decline drastically as the cold weather sets in.

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

Good afternoon. As Eric has just pointed out, we are hearing reports of displacement in a number of areas. Hundreds families are reported displaced from the Tora Bora area due to the bombing campaign. Accurate information and figures on the humanitarian situation in the East is difficult to obtain due to insecurity in this area.

Meanwhile, in the Kunduz area, the number of internally displaced people has grown to between 4,000 and 5,000 in three camps.

The security situation in the Kunduz area and in much of the Southern region of the country is similarly unstable. Armed groups operating north of Kunduz and on the road between Kunduz and Kabul makes it difficult for relief operations to be carried out according to needs, and national staff have advised that it is not safe for international staff to return to the Kunduz area.

In the border town of Spin Boldak in the South East the security is still not satisfactory, there are reports that a volatile situation there is preventing access by humanitarian staff to asylum seekers in the area.

Following the departure of the Taliban from Kandahar there has been wide scale looting, according to reports received by UNOCHA yesterday. Several violent incidents have taken place on the road from Kandahar to Heart. The road is only sporadically accessible due to armed elements active in the area.

The reestablishment of UN offices in Mazar is underway as we speak with office modules provided by UK being transported from Termez today.

** Richard Koser, Spokesperson for UNICEF

Six C-130 Hercules transport planes will be leaving Europe tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday to deliver high-protein porridge destined for needy people in Afghanistan. The aircraft, carrying 85 metric tonnes of UNIMIX, have loaned by Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. The UNIMIX will be delivered to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and Turkmenabad, Turkmenistan, for onward distribution to Herat and Mazar.

Now that the road from Kabul to Bamiyan has been opened, UNICEF has despatched a convoy direct from Islamabad to the Bamiyan area. The convoy left Islamabad this morning carrying 10,000 jerry cans and 10,000 blankets for distribution to needy families in the Bamiyan area.

Additionally, 600,000 syringes arrived in Kabul today. This is part of a supply of essential materials to be used to carry out a national measles vaccination campaign. The campaign aims to vaccinate up to nine million children over the coming months against measles, which causes more than 40 per cent of preventable deaths among Afghan children. UNICEF Kabul is making contact with the incoming health authorities and with local media (radio and television) to ensure maximum coverage.

A press release detailing the campaign will be available in the coming days.

A UNICEF emergency officer returned from Herat last night. He reports that the town is lively, with some small arms fire but 'nothing serious'. UNICEF-sponsored teacher training is continuing in the town. In the local refugee camp, arrangements were made for the medical post to extend operating hours from the current Ramazan schedule.

** Jordan Dey, Spokesperson for WFP

WFP is concerned about the 2,700 newly displaced persons who have congregated on the Iranian/Afghanistan border in Zaranj. While information is still incomplete, the IDPs appear to be recently displaced from Kandahar, having fled from the violence and food insecurity in the region. According to initial reports, some families have found refuge within the village, yet 197 families - or 1,200 people - are living outdoors, in an open area, "with no shelter". The group includes small children and pregnant women. Our implementing partner, ACTED, is currently doing a rapid needs assessment. WFP will provide food assistance and help them in their return, when the security situation allows.

Our office in Kandahar, which we have not seen for two months, appears to have been destroyed.

In Faizabad yesterday, the weather cleared, permitting a Hercules C-130 to deliver 17 metric tonnes of wheat from our warehouse based in southern Tajikistan. The high mountain passes around Faizabad are blocked with snow making it extremely difficult for trucks to access the region. With these airlifts and other deliveries, WFP is helping more than 274,000 people in areas affected by snow in the northeast.

We have now distributed for four days and we are now feeding the 1.3 million residents that we had identified as highly vulnerable.

Our four rail cars filled with wheat finally made it across the Friendship Bridge this morning. The cars were held up yesterday due to maintenance problems with the rail lines.

** Fatoumata Kaba, Spokesperson for UNHCR

Before I talk about UNHCR activities, I have the regret to report the death of a 30-year old truck driver carrying fencing material for the Roghani camp after he was shot yesterday, near Chaman. According to information we received, the shooting incident occurred between security forces and thieves attempting to rob the contents of the truck that had broken down on the way. The police, who arrested two of the robbers, stated that the incident was an isolated one. All the while, authorities are heightening vigilance around the work area of UN and other aid agencies assisting refugees in Chaman. We regret the death of an innocent person.

Now, going to our operations in the area, the Roghani camp is full but we will open a new camp at Landi Kareze tomorrow. It is located on the Killi Faizo - Roghani axis, some 3 kilometres before the Roghani camp and has space for 10,000 refugees. Around 130 tents have been pitched up on the new campsite and one water tanker has been installed by OXFAM. 4,500 refugees remain in the Killi Faizo camp.

For the third straight day this week, the number of Afghans returning from Pakistan to Afghanistan is getting higher. Yesterday our border monitors at Chaman recorded 1,900 persons crossing the border back to Afghanistan. Since Monday, over 5,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan, marking a trend of return among Afghan populations from neighbouring countries. So far the largest numbers of returns are from Iran -over 25,000 in recent weeks, particularly to northern Afghanistan.

As we told you yesterday, our return back to Mazar-I-Sharif will greatly improve our capacity to assess the IDP and returnee situation in northern Afghanistan and to address their needs.

Westwards, we are expecting our humanitarian convoy that left Islam Quala yesterday to arrive in Herat today. The 14-truck convoy is the second UNHCR humanitarian aid sent from Mashad, Iran, to Afghanistan. It carries tents, blankets, stoves, jerry cans and other domestic items. A third convoy, comprising ten truckloads of goods for an estimated 1,000 beneficiary families, is also scheduled to leave Mashad today.

Elsewhere in the region, UNHCR and its partners in Zahedan, Iran, are working with local hospitals to set up a referral system for the treatment of Afghans living in displaced camps in southwestern Afghanistan to hospitals in Iran. UNHCR will cover the medical costs. We will also be working with other aid agencies to assist displaced persons in Zaranj. We received reports that 200 families-or about 1,000 persons- are currently staying in the UNHCR warehouse in Zaranj. The majority are reportedly Kuchis, nomads who have been trapped by the ongoing drought. UNHCR has asked MSF and UNHCR staff in Zaranj to draw up a list of non-food item requirements, and will then put a convoy together. Southwest Afghanistan is one the most severely affected drought area of the country.