Afghanistan + 1 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 19 Dec 2001

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News and Press Release
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Posted
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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE U.N. OFFICES FOR PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN
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).

** Jordan Dey, Spokesperson for WFP

The World Food Programme will receive more than 29 metric tons of emergency food assistance in Kabul this Friday (21 December) from a group of New York City fire-fighters and police officers.

The team left New York City yesterday and will arrive in Belgium today where it will load cooking oil, rice, powdered milk and wool blankets onto a cargo plane.

The cargo plane will then arrive at 8 a.m. Friday at Bagram air base, 32 miles north of Kabul. The supplies will be received by WFP and delivered to an orphanage in Kabul by the officers, many of whom, were involved in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site.

WFP welcomes this act of friendship and solidarity the with the fire-fighters and policemen of New York City and is happy to be facilitating the delivery.

Logistics

As of yesterday, WFP has dispatched more than 51,000 MT of food into Afghanistan. This is close to the total amount of food that WFP sent to hungry families in Afghanistan during the entire month of November (55,000 MT).

This delivery rate bodes well for the vulnerable people who are living in the hardest to reach regions of Afghanistan, which continue to be our priority areas.

Let me share with you some examples of what we have done to achieve this logistics performance:

WFP has improved delivery corridor between Osh (Kyrgyzstan)) and Faizabad, in the northeast of Afghanistan. Last Friday, WFP began dispatching a daily convoy of 17 trucks for Faizabad -- and four smaller cities around Faizabad. The journey, over icy roads packed with snow, is 1200 kilometres and requires approximately 10 days to complete.

The 5-ton trucks - which are small by our standards - are preceded by a road clearing team. 510 trucks, moving WFP's food commodities, will ply this road. I will report back to you when - and if - the trucks arrive.

WFP is helping more than 274,000 people in Faizabad and the surrounding areas, all of which are affected by heavy winter snow fall. As you are aware we have simultaneous an ongoing airlift to Faizabad to complement what is arriving by road.

In Turkmenabad we now have running on a 24 hrs basis a "bagging plant" where we bag the wheat arriving in bulk from Kazakhstan. We have already achieved a bagging output of 1,000 metric tons per day.

The equipment we are utilizing has been leased from an international bagging operator and we have a team of three South African engineers running it. WFP is now bringing additional equipment to increase the output of the plant to some 1,500 to 1,800 MT per day. Wheat comes in bulk from Kazakhstan where WFP has so far purchased 80,000 metric tons.

In Termez WFP is now utilizing both the port with the daily dispatch of one barge carrying about 300 tons and the bridge for rail wagons. Our goal is to achieve about 700 to 800 MT daily going across the Amu Darya at Termez/Hairaton border to supply Balkh, Takhar and other northern provinces.

WFP is ready to move food into and around Kandahar, as well as along the Quetta-Herat corridor, as soon as the security situation allows. At the beginning of the crisis WFP had some 1,600 tons in the warehouse in Kandahar. Since the international staff was evacuated, WFP has been unable to verify if the stock is still there as there were reports that Taliban forces had put the warehouse under their protection. Later the warehouse was bombed. We have not been able so far to confirm the status of the warehouse, stock and the trucks we had parked in the compound when the international staff withdrew in September.

Drought

Finally, the rains received yesterday in parts of Afghanistan are a welcomed respite for a country suffering it's worst-ever drought.

A WFP study conducted in May, for example, concluded that poor winter precipitation in 2000/2001, combined with a lack of seeds, poor agricultural infrastructure, and displacement of farmers due to fighting, led to a harvest of 2 million tons - or nearly 40% less than the total 1999 harvest. The poor harvest caused by the drought conditions is a widespread problem in Afghanistan as approximately 85 percent of Afghans depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

The effects of the 3-year drought have been devastating in almost all parts of the country, except for pockets in the eastern region. Ghor and Badghis have been particularly hard-hit by the drought. The population in these areas depend almost entirely on rain-fed wheat - which was almost a total loss this harvest season.

** Richard Koser, Spokesperson for UNICEF

Staffing

The UNICEF Representative for Afghanistan, Dr Eric Laroche, departed for Kabul today. All being well, he should be arriving in the UNICEF office about now. Accompanied by a team of four, he will be reviewing programmes in the Kabul area and preparing for the return of more operational staff.

Education

Over the past week, UNICEF has been participating in a World Bank-led process to determine the basic needs in the education sector over the coming months and years. Although the broad outlines of the needs have become clear, the details of what will be the first and most important priorities are being discussed today with the incoming minister for education, Abdul Rassoul Amin, in Peshawar today.

However, a few notes for your reference to point out how critical the situation is:

  • Literacy is incredibly low: estimates put the figure for men around 40 per cent, and for women at less than 10 per cent, possibly as low as 4 per cent.
  • More than 2,000 school buildings have been damaged or destroyed in the past 20 years of fighting.
  • The country has only about 20,000 qualified teachers, but more than 4 million children in the primary school age group. A large number of unqualified teachers will be needed, and a training programme to upgrade their skills.
  • We expect about 1.5 million students (about one-third of those in the age group) will want to go to school on 21 March.
  • UNICEF is committed to supporting these students and their teachers. It is in our mandate, as outlined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • The exact nature of that support is one of the issues being discussed in Peshawar today.