**Mike Sackett, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator For Afghanistan
On the same day as the important Bonn agreement was signed, there was another meeting in Berlin, reviewing the need for reconstruction in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Support Group (ASG) of donors was attended by ministers and other high level representatives from a large number of countries.
The donor group reviewed critical issues such as the humanitarian and security situation in Afghanistan and the reconstruction process which is now underway.
An assessment of the humanitarian and the security situation will be of vital importance. The donor group expressed appreciation for the work done by the office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.
Regarding the current security situation, there is a wider area in which the UN can operate close to normal. Among these are the Faizabad-Kabul area and as far west as the city of Bamiyan. Also the area around Herat has near normal security. Between Mazar and Herat there is still a critical area in terms of humanitarian need, where international staff have not had full access. UN operations continue, however, with local staff. The most difficult region is still much of the east and the southern part of the country.
Of course we don't yet have a full country coverage. Large reconstruction programmes need to be implemented, and the ongoing need assessment will be ready by the middle of January.
Currently 72 international staff are working in Afghanistan, close to the 75 who were in before September 11. Today 35 international aid workers are in Kabul, 20 in Herat, nine in Mazar and eight in Faizabad.
The UN is tackling a complex emergency of immense magnitude that requires strong efforts from the international community. In this connection a ministerial meeting is to be held in Tokyo by end of January, which may have a positive impact on further work in Afghanistan.
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (including parts of question and answer session.
**Jordan Day, Spokesperson for WFP, standing in for Eric Falt
WFP has some sad news to announce this afternoon: Yesterday, at 9 AM, a private truck carry WFP wheat slipped off an icy bridge on the road between our warehouse in Ishkashem and its final destination, Faizabad. The driver, Mr. Naik Qadam Dawlad Qadamov, died upon impact. His assistant, who was also his son, was injured. The driver was 73 years old.
The bridge, which was covered with snow, was in the Baharak district in the province of Badakshan. The death of the contracted truck driver is the first casualty in the WFP operation since the current emergency began.
The other bad news is that supposed Afghan "customs officers" are trying to collect the equivalent of USD $150 for each truck crossing with aid from Iran. Furthermore, transporters crossing the Turkmen/Afghan border are reporting that the Herat authorities are forcing them to move cargo South through Herat first before proceeding northeast to the final destination in Badghis. This is an entirely unnecessary, out-of-the way route which drives up our costs and slows down food delivery. These bureaucratic impediments are wholly unacceptable given the extraordinary food needs in Badghis and Ghor.
Furthermore, we have reports that the Afghan borders with Iran (strikethrough:)and Turkmenistan will be closed from today until Friday due to the Eid festivities. We hope this is a misunderstanding. It would be incomprehensible for both borders to be closed for such a long period of time given the needs in Afghanistan right now and the time-pressures that winter is putting on our Central Highlands deliveries.
According to our staff in Faizabad, more than 15 cm of snow fell in the two days just prior to Mr. Qadamov's death.Because of the unseasonably high snow falls on Dec. 9-10, WFP has started distributing to the Teshkan district in the south of Faizabad - a district which is now a priority due to the risk that it may be cut-off from access later in the winter. WFP distributed enough wheat there yesterday to assist 20,640 people (172 MT).
Our partner NGO's - who distribute the food - have also received WFP food for 142,000 people living in the hard-to-reach districts of Ragh, Sharibuzurg, Yaftal and food for school children in Ishakahem, Zepak, Baharak. In Khost Freng, our Irish NGO partner, Concern, is working on opening a New 15 km road to get food into the area, following the closure by snow of the eastern route. If this route works, Khost will be accessible throughout the winter.
Still in Faizabad, WFP's 3-member Avalanche Control team arrived yesterday to do assessments in the region. They are now traveling to Ishakashem to ascertain the snow and avalanche constraints that WFP my face in the coming months given the heavy snow falls - which could block roads. As you can tell from the unfortunate death of Mr. Qadamov yesterday, these are extremely treacherous roads.
In Kabul, we have distributed wheat to 900,000 people (7500 MT). The distributions are now going smoothly, in contrast to the difficulties that we had at 5 isolated distribution points during the first day. The grim statistics are now in from our field staff in Kabul: One WFP staff member was beaten severely, two drivers were injured, two trucks lost their windshields, and one NGO staff has a fractured arm. The head of our office in Kabul, who has years of experience in food distributions, noted that this Kabul-wide city distribution was the largest he's ever coordinated.
He noted that the violence "illustrates the desperate situation" that many Kabul residents were experiencing.
The next urban food distributions will be in Herat and Mazar. Also in Kabul, WFP has distributed wheat to the displaced persons living in the ex-Soviet compound. The ration will last until Dec. 23. We are hoping the displaced can return to their place of origin, Shomaly, soon as safety has improved in that area. WFP will provide assistance for their return.
While the city-center of Kandahar appears relatively safe, the areas surrounding the city are still highly volatile.WFP will make immediate food assessments as enter as soon as we are granted permission to enter.
WFP is increasing its staffing capacity in Afghanistan in response to improving security. WFP now has 24 international staff working in Kabul (7), Mazar (2), Herat (5) and Faizabad (10).We have 228 national staff working in Afghanistan.
** Fatoumata Kaba, Spokesperson for UNHCR
While we have improved access to north, west and central Afghanistan, we are still concerned about the ongoing instability in southern and eastern Afghanistan where we have not been able to carry out any humanitarian activities.
The UN plans to conduct security assessments in Kandahar and Jalalabad, the key cities of southern and eastern Afghanistan.UNHCR is ready to reopen its offices in both areas if the results of the assessment are positive.
Despite the ongoing instability, the trend of return movements to Afghanistan continues from parts of Pakistan which border on southern and eastern Afghanistan. Over 1,000 persons recently crossed the Pakistani Turkham border into Afghanistan. The Turkham crossing point is only 12 km from the embattled Tora Bora area. Returnees are essentially ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, while the Pashtuns, who are considered Taliban sympathizers, are hesitant to go back to areas under the control of the Northern Alliance. In Balochistan, at the Chaman border, more than 7,000 persons crossed back between the beginning of the week and yesterday.
Meanwhile, few refugee families, who fear civil war as a result of factional feuds, continue to seek asylum in Pakistan. They come from the Kandahar area and are also mainly of the Pashtun ethnic group. Some of them go to our staging camp in Killi Faizo where some 4,800 refugees are awaiting relocation.
To date our new camps are sheltering over 30,000 new Afghan refugees that we relocated within Balochistan and NWFP. In the Chaman area today we opened a new campsite at Landi Kareze, near Roghani. Food and other relief supplies are being stocked on the site ahead of the transfer of the refugees there after the Eid holidays.
Inside Afghanistan, we airlifted relief material for the first time to Kabul yesterday. The chartered Ilyushin 76 aircraft, which landed at the Bagram airfield, was loaded with 31 metric tons of relief aid from the UN's stockpile in Brindisi, Italy. The giant cargo plane transported thousands of blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, tents, plastic tarpaulins, soap and health kits valued at more than $98,000.
One of the trucks hauling the goods from the airfield to Kabul hit a landmine. No one was injured in the incident, and mine-clearing personnel travelling with the UNHCR convoy put the vehicle back onto cleared path.
Under its on-going distribution program for its emergency winter assistance packages, UNHCR intends to deliver aid to some 50,000 people from 10,000 vulnerable families living in Kabul and three neighbouring provinces to help them better cope during the harsh winter season. The winter assistance packages contain blankets, quilts, sweaters, mats, plastic tarpaulin, coal and food aid from the UN's World Food Program meant to help destitute families survive the harsh winter months. Many of the Afghans participating in the relief distribution are internally displaced persons from the heavily mined Shomali plains north of the capital, formerly a prime agricultural region.
Over recent days, UNHCR aid convoys totalling 25 trucks have reached Herat, arriving from both Turkmenistan and Iran. Additional convoys are expected to arrive following the Eid celebrations. In Herat, we will be working closely with the International Organization for Migration which oversees relief distribution to displaced Afghans encamped in the sprawling Maslakh camp.
** Richard Koser, Spokesperson for UNICEF
While emergency aid is vital during the winter, UNICEF is not neglecting our longer-term goals. One of those, which is particularly crucial in Afghanistan, is basic education for all children, boys and girls.
Basic education is one of the most cost-effective and sustainable ways to improve a country's economic prospects.It is not a quick fix, but on the other hand, it is never too soon to start.
In a post-conflict situation, education is even more vital than during periods of prolonged peace.By introducing a routine, a system where children can go to school and be with other children in a classroom, we tell the community, "War is over."
I was working in East Timor before I came to help here.In East Timor, we found that the schools we opened in the months after the violence provided communities with a focus.It gave children and parents a sense of purpose.It signalled to them that the bad times were over.I hope that something similar is taking place now, in areas where we have been able to provide supplies.
In the east, some 2,600 sets of textbooks have been distributed to schools in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces this week, along with supplies for 3,000 students.Registration for the formal school year has started.
Starting after Eid, we will supply 500 home-based schools for boys and girls around Kabul. These supplies will sustain the schools through the winter until the formal school year starts in March. UNICEF has supported 300 in past, 200 are new schools.
Supplies will include floor covering, plastic sheeting to cover windows, teachers' desks, chairs, (traditional heaters), textbooks, notebooks, pencils, blackboards, etc.We will also pay teachers a small cash incentive, so that they are not drawn away to other income-generating activities in the meantime.
We received a report yesterday from our Jalalabad field office that about 1,000 families have moved from the area of Tora Bora to neighbouring districts, especially Koghiani.The authorities are asking for assistance in form of drinking water, food, warm clothes and shelter.The International Rescue Committee, HealthNet International and Medecins Sans Frontieres are supporting the IDPs in those districts.
From the same source, we also have a report that the authorities have asked agencies to get permits from the planning department to facilitate at the checkpoints before sending in supplies to Jalalabad.