Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 21 Dec 2001

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
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).

** Dan Kelly, Programme Manager, Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan

I have expressed concern in the past about the ammunition depots within the military compounds that have been bombed and would like to give you a quote from a senior technical advisor who has just viewed some of these bombed depots in and around Kabul.

"Thousands and thousands of sub munitions, rockets, mortars, missiles and mines spread over a radius of up to 5 x kms of roads, residential areas, irrigation canals and agriculture land. These munitions are all live and may explode and kill if moved. In the last days these munitions have killed and injured many innocent Afghan civilians including deminers".

A tragic incident occurred near the Maslakh camp in Herat on 18 Dec where 2 children aged 9 and 10 were killed and two others were injured by a BLU 97 bomblet while collecting wood. Mr Siddiqui, the Mine Action Regional Manager for Herat, who was involved in rescuing the injured and removal of the dead, emotionally expressed the opinion that:

"Today is Eid for all Afghans. However it is a tragic day for those Afghans who give up their children while trying to provide for their survival."

This passionate sentiment is felt by all 5000 deminers in the mine action programme for Afghanistan as they carry out their Jihad against mines and UXO and strive to stop the suffering of the Afghan people.

The coalition force has provided information on a total of 103 submunition strikes areas. The information given for 78 of these areas depicts that 1210 CBU's have been dropped. This equates to 244,420 sub munitions. The initial ground assessments indicates that, at a minimum, 10 % of the sub munitions, that is 24,442, have failed to explode and are laying on the ground as a very dangerous and deadly UXO. Information on the other 25 areas is being sought from the Coalition HQ and will hopefully be provided shortly.

The MAPA continues to loose equipment and stores from armed groups inside of Afghanistan. One disturbing example happened in Jaji, Paktia province, near the Pakistan border, on the night of 16 Dec 01 where in addition to other stores, explosives were stolen from an implementing agency ammunition bunker.

The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan consists of an HQ and five Regional offices located in the major cities of Afghanistan. These centers carry out coordination, prioritizion and allocation of awareness, survey and clearance tasks to a number of implementing NGOs. The Programme consists of approximately 5,000 Afghans.

Training

As you are aware, training in survey, clearance and awareness of the new sub munitions and spewed ammunition compounds threat in Afghanistan has been ongoing for the past six weeks in Peshawar, Quetta, Herat and Kabul for approximately 4400 deminers. 65 % of this training has been completed and the remaining deminers will be trained by 20 Jan 02.

Operations by Region

Central region

Over 920 deminers from various implementing agencies are presently carrying out awareness, survey and clearance operations in and around Kabul. For the new interim government inauguration ceremonies tomorrow, the 22 Dec, the Programme is also providing mine dogs to the minister of Interior for security. In addition the Programme will provide ambulances, para-medics, and doctors in case of any medical emergencies and busses for movement of international and national personnel attending the ceremony.

Western region

Over 200 deminers from various implementing agencies are presently carrying out mine awareness, survey and clearance operations in and around Herat. Due to the security situation along the Kandakar to Herat Road another 70 deminers and equipment will be transported to Herat by a UAE cargo plane on Saturday 22 Dec and an additional 150 deminers will follow by road once their security situation permits.

Northern region

Over 130 deminers are presently carrying out survey, awareness and clearance operations In Mazar, Baglan, Samangan and Kunduz. An additional 100 deminers will also be deployed to the North on the 25 Dec followed by an additional 100 deminers at the beginning of January.

Eastern & Southern regions

Presently we have approximately 20 senior operations level deminers carrying out liaison with the Eastern Shurias and starting to do mine action assessments in Kandahar and Jalalabad. We have approximately 500 deminers trained and ready to deploy into Eastern Region and approximately 900 deminers undergoing training and ready for redeployment into Southern region once the security situation allows.

** Fadela Chaib, Spokesperson for WHO

The World Health Organization is pursuing all ways and means of providing emergency medical supplies to the hospitals and health centers inside Afghanistan, both in the rural and urban districts. The World Health Organization has requested all its teams in the field to make accurate assessments about the health needs at district and provincial levels.

While there have been no reports of outbreaks, the season of increased incidence of Acute Respiratory Infections requires new stocks of antibiotics to replenish the stores depleted by this influx of people. Remote areas which may be cut off by snow need to be supplied first. Regarding the communicable diseases surveillance, WHO has 19 Sentinel sites in Badakhshan and 3 in Takhar to control and report the Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP), measles and tetanus cases. Besides, WHO EPI Officers control and report the routine EPI activities.

WHO had already provided 60 Emergency Medical Kits to hospitals and health facilities inside Afghanistan either through WHO sub -offices or NGOs. The remaining were sent to WHO sub- offices for distribution to health facilities. For example, WHO office in Jalalabad has 7 Emergency Health Kits to dispatch to the Eastern region. Twenty Emergency health kits will be transported from Tehran to Heart and 20 similar kits will arrive from Dushumbe to Wakhan, Faisabad and Darwaz districts in Badakhshan province.

WHO has collaborated, together with UNICEF, Afghan health workers and NGOs to the needs assessment for the reconstruction of the health sector in Afghanistan, jointly carried out by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and UNDP. The purpose of the exercise is to help mobilize the financial resources required for the short and medium-terms recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, and prioritize, and coordinate the activities into a joint sectoral plan. The preliminary results of the needs assessment have been presented at a donor conference in Brussels today and will serve as a basis for the pledging conference that will take place in Tokyo in the second half of January 2002. Priority needs for immediate humanitarian assistance have been identified, as well those more long-term, including institutional support to the MOPH, reactivation of health services and infrastructure.

For the first six months, the focus should be to prevent preventable diseases through integrated and proactive strategies articulted around primary health care. The integrated strategy will focus on: Reproductive health, Child health, Nutrition, Communicable disease control, injuries and trauma and mental health.

** Maki Shinohara, Spokesperson for UNHCR

The numbers of arrivals to Pakistan as well as returns to Afghanistan through the Chaman crossing are increasing, and the trend is likely to continue. Yesterday, 74 refugee families were registered at Killi Faizo, while 2,500 refugees returned to Afghanistan. Some of the returnees came from Quetta city, and included also those who had fled to Pakistan before September. The returning refugees said they were hopeful for a better future in Afghanistan.

The transfer of refugees from the city of Quetta to Mohamad Khel camp resumed yesterday, after a brief break in the operation during Eid. Some 1,200 refugees were moved to Mohamad Khel yesterday, bringing the total number of refugees at the new camp to 6,200.

Our security staff has returned yesterday from a mission to Zaranj, southwest border town of Afghanistan. He said that the town, which is cut off by a desert, was spared from the recent conflict, although a coalition bomb dropped about two kilometers from the town limits.

He also went to the Mile 46 camp, 20 kilometers south of Zoranj, which hosted 5,400 displaced people, according to the camp managers. He reported that the camp was orderly and clean, with water facilities seemingly working well. Medical team was present at the camp. UNHCR is covering the cost of bringing patients to local Iranian hospitals.

Our staff could not reach Makaki camp, north of Zaranj, but the authorities told our staff that some 700 families had been transfered from Makaki to Zaranj and its nearby villages. Of these families, 52 were staying at our warehouse in Zaranj, in a poor condition.

UNHCR hopes to re-establish our office in Zaranj as soon as it is logistically possible and to find out more about the displacement situation there. Together with UNHCR's office in Zabol in Iran, we are preparing to send in relief supplies to the displaced people in southwest Afghanistan, which has been struck severely by drought.

** Jordan Dey, Spokesperson for WFP

First a quick update on the arrival of the New York City police and firefighters to Kabul today. The Ilyouchin 76 cargo plane, carrying 14 NYC firefighters and police officers, arrived at 8 a.m at Bagram air base this morning. A four-truck WFP convoy met them, then departed immediately for the Tahiya Masqan orphanage. Food and blankets are now being distributed as we speak to more than 700 orphaned children in Kabul.

An update

As you will recall, a convoy of 17 trucks left Osh (Kyrgyzstan) last Friday for the 1,200 km journey over treacherous roads to small towns around Faizabad. I am happy to report the first convoy arrived without any problems. The drive time was a mere 7 days.

Normally we stopped operating in this corridor in December due to the harsh winter conditions, but this year we have been able to continue operating in this mountainous region using our new EMERCOM trucks and snow clearing teams in the region.

In Faizabad, the local bazaars are reportedly well stocked with food and non-food items. Wheat prices continued to fall as record quantities of food aid have been distributed by WFP in rural areas throughout the region.

Access by trucks to districts in Badakhshan is becoming progressively more difficult although donkeys can still move on narrow tracks and make their way to villages.

Logistics

In the north, an innovative new method for ferrying humanitarian supplies across the Amu Darya river will be operational by the end of January or early February. Two tugboats will pull a floating, pontoon barge across the river.

The floating craft will be capable of carrying 90 tons of food or other humanitarian goods - most of which will be destined for Konduz and other areas in the north. The river crossing will be at Ninzji Pjiani - about 70 km north of Konduz. The German government has made a generous contribution of one million DM for the two tugboats and the pontoon barge.

More on equipment

Two huge, front-loading bulldozers will be airlifted shortly into Faizabad from Kazakhstan. The 16-foot high bulldozers will be used for snow removal in the mountainous areas of the northeast of Afghanistan. The bulldozers have a heated cabin that can withstand minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This purchase was part of a US donation for purchasing urgently needed equipment.

Donations

The World Food Programme would also like to thank the Japanese Government for its donation of high-energy biscuits for displaced persons living in the northeast of Afghanistan. The $461,000 donation will benefit 781,500 people and is distributed to families that enter or leave camps for the displaced. The high-energy biscuits were airlifted from Tokyo, Japan to Dushanbe, Tajikistan last week. The 81 tons donation is largely provided by the people of Yokohama, Japan.

I would also like to announce that WFP is receiving a 3000 MT donation of rice from the Thai government on Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. in the port in Karachi. The donation is worth $678,000 US and will feed 200,000 people for one month. WFP will have a ceremony at the port with officials from the Thai Embassy on Dec. 27 to commemorate this donation. If you - or your colleagues - are interested in covering the event please feel free to contact me after this briefing in order to organize the permission needed to access the port.

Security

Finally, a note for reporters heading to Afghanistan: A second robbery of a UN National staff member has occurred within two days. Armed men are operating in the City and appear to be targeting those they believe have money.

In Kandahar, the bazaar is reported to be calm but there is firing in the outskirts of the City. Rival groups continue to operate in the area which is generally reported to be volatile. On 19 December the Chaman - Kandahar road was blocked due to Tribal fighting.

Farah, in the South West, is said to be unstable with a lot of criminal activities and limited travel due to banditry.

Jalalabad and Tora Bora, of course, are still highly volatile.