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
WFP Bakeries open again
Bakeries that will help more than 35,000 poor, destitute and widowed women in Kabul reopened today after being closed for the past two months.
The 21 WFP bakeries, once again using an all-female Afghan staff, was a point of contention under Taliban rule. In June of 2000, for example, three WFP female staff were arrested by the Taliban and jailed for three days for working with the bakeries. One employee, Fauzia Aziz Niazi, is returning to Afghanistan today for the first time since leaving the country after her arrest.
"I am really interested in working with my own country, my own population again," said Niazi. "Under the Taliban, we were still working, but very secretly. At the beginning we were allowed, we had special permission, but then they made some troubles for us," she said, referring to the arrest.
The bakeries, with 320 female staff, produce bread on a daily basis for the must vulnerable populations in Kabul: the elderly, disabled, and widows. Each family is given a card that entitles them to purchase five loaves of bread per day - at a greatly reduced cost. For example, if five loaves of bread at a regular bakery cost 6,600 Afghans (22 US cents), the WFP bakery cost is 1000 Afghans (3 US cents), an 85% reduction.
Aziz, who has 6 children and is the sole wage earner in her family, said, "I want to help the Afghan people and I want to help my family. I am very happy that peace will return to Afghanistan. I am going to work very hard to rebuild my country."
The WFP bakeries became operational in Kabul in 1999 and are located in 10 of the 16 districts in Kabul.
If you would like more information on visiting the bakeries, please contact me after the press briefing.
Regarding the New York City fire-fighters and police officers who are arriving with humanitarian assistance in Kabul tomorrow, we have the following update:
The rice, oil, powdered milk and blankets will be delivered to the Tahiya Masqan orphanage, which serves 700-800 children in southern Kabul. WFP will meet the fire-fighters and police officers at Bagram airbase with four WFP transport trucks to move the humanitarian assistance.
Finally, I am pleased to announce today that WFP has moved as much food into Afghanistan in the first two-and-half weeks of December - as we did during the entire month of November. The November dispatch amount had previously been the high-water mark. WFP staff and truck drivers are still confronting extreme winter challenges in the Central Highlands and the northeast as well as high security risks in nearly every part of the country. Nearly a meter of snow has fallen in the Central Highlands in the past 3 days.
I'm also pleased to report that WFP met with Ismael Khan, the Governor of Herat yesterday, and he has assured us that the $150 per truck fee that was being assessed on the Iranian/Afghan border will be removed. The governor also agreed to help end the requirement by local authorities that trucks crossing the Torghundi border from Turkmenistan must first go south to Herat before driving north into Badghis province. The trucks will now be able to move directly to Badghis, a more direct, less-time consuming route.
** Einar Kr. Holtet, UNOCHA Spokesperson
In the Sar Shahi camp in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, an NGO has identified over 1,000 people still living without shelter. The majority of the IDPs in the camp, numbering some 3,000 families, are from Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar provinces.
Security is still tense in some areas of eastern Afghanistan with inter-tribal fighting and looting. However authorities in Jalalabad have reportedly established a special security unit for UN premises and NGOs operating in the region, and are searching for looted items. The UN international staff will return to Jalalabad as soon as a security assessment can be undertaken. In the meantime, UN national staff have started to return to Jalalabad.
In the South the situation is not secure in areas around Kandahar, including the highway from Kandahar to Herat where unknown gunmen have stopped several cars. Passengers have been robbed and subsequently killed. No international staff of UN agencies has so far returned to the region.
However, some UN agencies are expected soon to reopen their offices in Kandahar city, with UN Afghan staff present in the region. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are re-establishing their presence in Kandahar city. UN activities are continuing in water, sanitation, health and child feeding in southern Afghanistan.
It is expected that Kandahar airport may be of increasing value to relief efforts in the South, after the runway has been repaired. Relief transports are severely needed. This would also facilitate the return of international staff to Kandahar.
Internally displaced persons (IDP) in Spin Boldak camps receive food aid, clothes and shelter. An NGO mission has concluded, however, that many of the displaced are malnourished and dehydrated due to lack of sufficient food. Most of the clinics were either closed or without a doctor.
Looting is still frequent. In the district of Dilaram in the southern province of Nimroz 500 tons of crucially needed supplies of wheat, barley and maize seeds for winter plantation have been taken from an NGO warehouse.
UNDCP reports that the poppy cultivation has resumed and is extensive by desperate, partly destitute farmer families in Helmand province. The poppy cultivation period has just started. The price of one kg of raw opium has gone down to US$275 but is still nine times higher than it was in June.
In the North the bridge over the Amu Darya river, which links Uzbekistan to Afghanistan, was open on 9 December to the first group of humanitarian workers and officials. Subsequently around 35 UN and NGO workers have crossed the bridge and the first cargo of wheat was transported to Hairaton by rail. Similarly two routes are opened from Turkmenistan.
There is also increasing concern about the nutritional situation in northern Afghanistan, especially in areas most severely affected by continuing drought over the past three years. More than 17 per cent of children attending nutritional centres in two districts of Faryah province were severely malnourished.
And now for an up-close on the funding for the donor alert: The revised UN requirements for humanitarian work in Afghanistan amount to US$ 661.9 million. As of yesterday, 19 December a total of US$ 358.3 million was received.
Only one agency - The UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) is fully covered, while WFP achieved 81 per cent of requirements and UNHCR 59 per cent. UNDP and UNDCP have received no significant funds so far. It is worthwhile noting that increasing poppy production right now is a great challenge for UNDCP and the international community, and contributions towards this purpose should be encouraged.
UN agencies so far received funds covering 12 per cent of needs in water and sanitation and no contributions at all for education, economic recovery and infrastructure. Other sectors such as health services, mine action and agriculture are around 30 per cent coverage.
Strong efforts in mine action continue, though partly limited by security problems for de-mining personnel. It is estimated that US$600 million are needed to de-mine Afghanistan within three years.
** Richard Koser, Spokesperson for UNICEF
UNICEF is engaged in a major effort to get humanitarian supplies into Bamiyan while the road is open.
One convoy left Peshawar yesterday, and another was due to depart today, carrying a total of 23,000 blankets, 2,500 pairs of boots, 3,250 sweaters for women and 9,750 children's sweaters. They are travelling in WFP trucks, and we would like to thank WFP for their assistance in transporting these items.
From Kabul, we have also sent a large shipment of supplies to Bamiyan. As well as roughly 7,000 items of clothing, 5,000 tarpaulins, 1,500 infant sanitation kits and 500 safe delivery kits have been delivered.
UNICEF's senior programme officer returned from Mazar-i-Sharif yesterday and reported that the office there was in reasonable shape. Although armed men stole our vehicles and computers, we managed to hang onto our furniture and files. For this, we are deeply indebted to our Afghan colleagues who managed to maintain the security of the office through the crazy times of October and November.
The fact that our office is still functional has allowed us to move in three international staff, who will be preparing for a major measles campaign and nutrition interventions, as well as looking at more creative ways to get clean water to internally-displaced people. Three more international staff are expected to arrive in the coming week.
Related to the nutrition programme, we have signed an agreement with MSF to provide them with 30 MT of UNIMIX high-protein food, which will provide children in the local IDP camps with the nutrition they need for the next month. The situation will be reviewed in a couple of weeks.
In Faizabad, our office has begun assessing the damage to the maternity hospital and preparing a list of schools that could be repaired in the coming months. Tomorrow, we will conduct a distribution of relief supplies to a local orphanage.
We would like to thank WFP for repairing the communications facilities in our Faizabad office.
** Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson for UNHCR
Refugees began returning again after a lull over the Eid weekend, but in smaller numbers than last week. From Iran, there were about 1,600 returnees through Dogharoun border since Saturday, an average of 300 returns per day. In Pakistan, about 2,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan since Tuesday, while 150 refugees arrived through the Chaman crossing.
Yesterday, UNHCR opened Landi Karez camp for the new arrivals at Killi Faizo, in addition to the Roghani site. Some 300 refugees were transferred yesterday from Kill Faison, and another 300 will be moved today. Some 750 tents have been set up at Landis Karees with water and sanitation facilities installed in some blocks and water tanks on site.
We will also resume this weekend the transfers of refugees from the over-crowded Aloha camp in the Northwest Frontier Province, as well as those squatting in the city of Peshawar. Among the estimated 200,000 refugees that fled to Pakistan since September, more than 38,000 are currently accommodated in six new sites in Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, UNHCR staff travelled from Kabul to the Punisher Valley this week, to check on some 12,000 Afghans who fled the Somali Plains, north of the capital. De-mining specialists have identified at least 12 villages in the Somali Plains that appear to be clear of mines. We expect to begin assisting some of these Afghans home beginning next week. An estimated 200,000 Afghans fled Somali during fighting in the area.
On supplies, a Greek C-130 landed in Teheran earlier this week, with 1,500 blankets and 100 tents donated to UNHCR. The shipment will be transferred to Mashed, to cover the needs in Iran or Afghanistan. A third convoy from Iran is on standby in Mashed, ready to go into western Afghanistan.
In Herat, UNHCR, together with IOM, has begun planning for a large-scale re-registration of internally displaced people in western Afghanistan near Herat. The aim is to provide proper assistance to those in need in Marshal and Shad aye camps, to avoid over-crowding of these camps by re-directing new arrivals to new sites, as well as to gain better understanding of the dynamics of displacement in the area, including refugees who have returned spontaneously, but found themselves in displacement inside Afghanistan.
The provincial authorities have given permission to open a new camp at Mir Dud, to re-direct new arrivals from Baghdad and Gore areas. It is estimated that the registration exercise, planned for January, will require 1,000 personnel from various aid agencies. UNHCR will provide technical advice and train the core registration staff.
The current estimate of Dips in Marshal camp is 200,000 and another 27,000 at the Shad aye camp. These figures are to be verified with this re-registration. IOM is the coordinating agency for assisting the internally displaced in western Afghanistan.
** Fidel Chain, Spokesperson for WHO
The World Health Organization is particularly concerned about the health situation in Kudzu. Lack of medicines and cold weather is threatening the health of the population, especially in IDP camps. WHO was informed that 164 people have died in Kunduz IDPs camps and the majority are children. The biggest killer and most common disease in the camps is acute respiratory infections, including pneumonia. There are two IDPs camps in Kunduz: Baghi Sharkat and Amirabad. WHO will be providing medical supplies to health facilities in Kunduz shortly.
WHO is also still concerned about the health of IDPs in the Herat region. WHO is monitoring and supervising the construction of latrines in Maslakh camp. This construction should be completed by the end of this month.
The WHO sub- office is also providing essential drugs to clinics in the city of Herat and anti- TB drugs and lab reagents for the TB control programme in Herat regional hospital.
Essential drugs will also be sent to IDP camps in the Spin Boldak region and in Kandahar . WHO is planning to provide emergency health kits to district health facilities managed by the Afghan Ministry of Health. Each kit provides enough medical supplies for 10,000 people for three months.
In Faizabad, WHO is working to strengthen the quality of health care for the general population. It is increasing the number of health workers and has been training them to treat the major diseases in the region, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoeal diseases.
In the province of Badakhshan, tuberculosis is a major source of concern. WHO is providing anti-TB drugs and material, including microscopes, to health facilities in north-eastern region. WHO is also giving training to lab-technicians. More than thousand patients are under DOTS(Direct Observed Treatments short -course terms. A WHO team based in Faizabad will soon undertake an evaluation of TB in Taloqan, in the province of Thakhar. Three days ago WHO sent drugs supplies to Ghazni where several cases of TB and rabies have been reported in outlying remote areas.