The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing at the United Nations Information Centre in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (excluding question and answer session).
** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre
Good afternoon. We indicated yesterday that up to $ US 100 million are needed urgently to satisfy the immediate needs of the Afghan Interim Administration and help keep it afloat for the next six months. But according to a preliminary needs assessment prepared jointly by the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and released yesterday ahead of the Tokyo Conference, the more comprehensive reconstruction of Afghanistan is expected to cost about $15 billion over the next decade.
In the short term, the needs assessment expects priorities to be focused on helping as many Afghans as possible reclaim their lives with access to health services, children -- especially girls -- going to school, and adults returning to productive livelihoods, many of them in the fields and orchards. To this end, demining is expected to remain an important priority.
There is also a special focus in the report on a community-based approach to development and on the role of women in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, making space for them both in the economy and in the planning and decision-making processes. Another clear priority is drug control.
We are making a press release available for you, as well as the summary of a press conference by Mr. Mark Malloch-Brown yesterday in New York.
Finally, as you may know, the Security Council about 12 hours ago lifted international sanctions against Ariana Airlines. In a resolution adopted unanimously, the Council reflected the new reality that "Ariana Afghan Airlines is no longer owned, leased or operated by or on behalf of the Taliban, nor are its funds and other financial resources owned or controlled - directly or indirectly - by the Taliban." Sanctions against Afghanistan were originally imposed in 1999 and tightened in 2000. A press release is available for you on this topic.
** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF
Good afternoon. In the Northern Region of Afghanistan, work is underway to carry out the life-saving measles immunization campaign that has been ongoing in other parts of the country. Some 600,000 doses of vaccines and related supplies are being prepared for distribution in Takhar and Kunduz Provinces. Public health authorities, and UNICEF, WHO and NGO staff have been Takhar Province for the training of vaccination teams, with 13 districts of the province planned to be covered between next week and early February.
Four districts of Badakhshan (if asked: Yumgan Valley of the Jurm District, Keran Menjan District) in the Northeastern Region, have also been vaccination teams carrying out measles immunization this week. We have had initial reports from the UNICEF office in Faizabad that approximately 13,000 children, between the ages of six months and 12 years, have been reached so far, amid plans to fan out to other areas such as Keshem, Teshkan, and Baharak. As noted earlier, the remoteness of some of the villages that vaccinators are traveling to, sometimes on foot, means a little longer time in getting back detailed coverage results. We've also heard that the past few days of snow in the region have made travel difficult.
UNICEF is also working to meet the needs for winter emergency supplies across the country. Shelter, clothing and footwear supplies provided by UNICEF are being distributed to 10,000 families in the Khuja Ghar District of Takhar Province this week. We are also working with an NGO active in the Northern Region to distribute non-food items such as shoes, sweaters and blankets, to needy communities in the Teshkann Valley area.
In and around Herat, UNICEF has completed the planned distribution of around 60,000 sweaters and children's boots. 8,000 families were provided with blankets, bringing the total number of blankets distributed in the Herat area to more than 61,000 of the planned 76,000. In addition, 7,000 families have received mattresses and various winter clothing items. The new distribution of 8,100 heaters brings the number of heaters to half the planned total.
Finally, I draw your attention to the 14 January version of "UNICEF Reports: Humanitarian Relief in the Afghan Region", available after today's briefing. Thank you.
** Stephanie Bunker, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan
The weather report for Afghanistan seems encouraging but the worst is not yet over.
It has rained heavily in Herat for the past several days, with 15 centimeters of rain over two days being recorded at the airport. This welcome rain has wreaked havoc in the camps for displaced persons, where nearly 1,000 shelters have collapsed and others are at risk of collapsing. Winterized tents are being distributed, as are other shelter materials. The weather is also impeding access to remote areas. The roads into Ghor and Badghis Provinces are now partially or completely blocked by snow and mud, and missions are on hold. Efforts to clear roads continue.
As announced yesterday, it has also rained in Kandahar, but we do not yet have data on the quantity of precipitation. In Mazar, both heavy rain and snow has occurred, between the 10th and the 15th, with about 5 centimeters of snow remaining on the ground. This is the first significant precipitation of the winter. Heavy snowfall has also blanketed the Northeast (Faizabad), with 8 centimeters of snow on the ground. The only snow in Faizabad was in mid December. It has also snowed in Kabul, but only to a limited degree.
While the precipitation is much needed all over the country, it is premature to conclude that the drought is over in any area of the country. This will depend on further precipitation and on spring temperatures. It should be recalled that Afghanistan received more precipitation last year than the year before, and still experienced drought. To avert drought, there must be sufficient precipitation at the proper time, combined with favorable temperatures.
** Yusuf Hassan, Spokesperson for UNHCR
The authorities have given permission to UNHCR to move some 600 vulnerable Afghans from the waiting area on the edge of Killi Faizo transit center adjacent to the Chaman border crossing to a new location. The refugees were medically screened and the children vaccinated.
More than 13,000 Afghans are still stuck on the Pakistani side of the border. Many of the refugees are spending their second week in the open with no or little protection from the harsh winter. The recent heavy rains in the area have made their lives more miserable. UNHCR has distributed blankets, dates and provides water to the refugees.
The head of UNHCR's office in Baluchistan is continuing his visit to Chaman, where he has been meeting with Pakistani border officials. He is expected to return to Quetta later today.
The re-location of Afghans from makeshift squatter sites and urban areas in Quetta and Peshawar continues apace. Today, we moved 1,167 people from Jalozai to the Old Bagzai refugee camp in Kurram agency. Since mid-November, UNHCR has moved more than 37,000 refugees from Jalozai and Peshawar to the five-newly established camps in the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province.
** Khaled Mansour, Spokesperson for WFP
Tomorrow, the World Food Programme will start operating the first mobile telephone network in Afghanistan ever. This system will be used by the humanitarian workers and key government officials in Kabul.
Afghanistan is one of the most cut-off countries in the world terms of telecommunications. The relief workers of WFP and other aid agencies have to depend in many cases on an antiquated and unreliable telephone land network and an unstable electrical power system.
One cannot overstress the importance of having better communications in Afghanistan and the breakthrough that this mobile network will provide.
WFP has been working with the international telecommunication giant Ericsson to set up this mobile telecommunications network. WFP, the leading UN agency in humanitarian aid is responsible for the initial set-up and maintenance of relief telecommunications.
Free of charge, Ericsson is lending all the equipment with a market value of 5 million USD. The GSM system can host up to 5000 subscribers, and it will initially provide communication for 200users. The system is now in the first test phase and will go into full operation within the coming few days.
Afghanistan is the first project of this kind for Ericsson. WFP and Ericsson plan to use this experience to build a new fast response telecommunications module for use in future similar operations. This is in line with the recommendations made by the UNSG in his millennium report where he stimulates partnerships in humanitarian operations between the private sector and the UN.
Logistics is as important as communications. To augment WFP capacity to move food faster and in a more efficient way into Afghanistan, the agency has received a total of 260 trucks over the past few days to be deployed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
About 150 trucks, worth over six million dollars, have been donated by the United States, while WFP leased a fleet of 110 trucks from Ethiopia All the trucks arrived in Karachi port and some of them are already operating in Pakistan. These trucks will help WFP overcome periodic shortages in the local transport market.
Enhancing our logistical and communication infrastructure is part of WFP drive to become more flexible and efficient in handling the new situation in Afghanistan. It is true that WFP, supported by donors and a multitude of NGOs, has been able to avert a famine in Afghanistan this winter so far, but the humanitarian crisis is not over. We are focusing now on what many see as the harder part, which is pinpointing and addressing the needs various pockets of extreme hunger and poverty especially in the rural areas. This is a fight against snow, bad communication and - in short - an almost non-existent infrastructure in these pockets.
The specter of famine has been pushed away for the time being and we are proud of that achievement but the tragedy is far from over.