UN press briefing in Islamabad 26 Dec 2001

News and Press Release
Originally published
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 continues to dispatch a record amount of food into Afghanistan during the month of December. WFP has now sent nearly 80,000 tons of food into Afghanistan in December - enough to feed more than 9.6 million people for one month. Obviously, we don't need to feed 9.6 million Afghans every month, but a large part of this food stock will be pre-positioned in the hard-to-reach, mountainous areas where a food ration of six months may be needed.

80,000 tons - or nearly 4,000 tons a day - is an unprecedented level in Afghanistan. This translates into approximately 200 to 300 trucks moving everyday across the borders from Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. (Some of our contracted trucks carry a 5-ton payload, where the roads are narrow, treacherous and icy, while other trucks may carry a 40-ton payload over relatively good roads). The chart behind me shows this dramatic increase over the past three months.


Kandahar continues to be an inaccessible region for WFP due to high insecurity in the region. The WFP warehouse and offices were looted and destroyed, so we are currently looking for suitable warehouse in the area. Staff, food and trucks are ready to move into Kandahar as soon as the security situation allows. There are more than 238,000 people in the region who may be vulnerable and food insecure.

In Kandahar, some groups are apparently demanding a "tax" of $100 for entry into Kandahar City.

I am happy to report that the important southern trucking corridor, from Quetta, Pakistan to Herat, Afghanistan has now fully reopened. Food is now moving from our WFP warehouses in Quetta and Spin Boldak through the provinces of Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul, and Farah to Herat.


Finally, the 6th grade children of Miyazakidai elementary school in Japan have kindly sent messages to the Afghan children living in Jalozai refugee camp outside of Peshawar. After seeing pictures of the camp, the Japanese school children were worried about the Afghan children in the camp and wanted to send words of encouragement. I would like to read just a couple of those letters - which were beautifully written.

From Yuki Mori (a girl):

"To the people fleeing in Afghanistan: Afghanistan is under attack now and you may not have enough food to eat. But we'll make a donation to give you food. With best wish, Yuki".

From Konatsu Okutomi (a girl): "The people of Afghanistan: Through TV, I realized that Afghan people have to flee, even though most of them are innocent. I don't know the situation well, but I really worry about you. With regards. Kanatsu".

In total, 34 letters were written. These letters will also be read to the Afghan children living in the refugee camp.

WFP Staffing

Staffing levels in Afghanistan are as follows:

- 25 international staff (plus 22 Swedish road clearing crew and support staff in Herat)
- 227 national staff

**Fatoumata Kaba, Spokesperson for UNHCR

Yesterday in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) we resumed our relocation convoys after the Eid and Christmas holiday break. We relocated 1,100 refugees from Jalozai to Kotkai in Bajour Agency, thus doubling the number of refugees we have been relocating from an average of 500 a day to a daily average of 1,000 persons as part of an effort to accelerate the movement. We also moved another group of over 900 today, bringing the total relocation figure for NWFP to 12,000. Our overall target, along with our partners, is to relocate 10,000 refugees per week. However, the transfer of refugees to Kurram Agency remains suspended due to the prevailing security developments in the area. We are closely monitoring the situation and hope to resume the movement as soon as conditions permit.

We plan to open the Shalman site in Khyber Agency in case we are not able to resume transfers to Kurram in the coming days. Moreover, the Kotakai site is reaching its full capacity as well. Shalman is a site that was originally reserved for a possible sudden refugee influx from Afghanistan because the agency has the most important crossing point between eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is now highly unlikely that such influx will take place.

In southern Pakistan more persons are returning to Afghanistan after the Eid holidays. Between Sunday and Tuesday, the number of those crossing from the Chaman area went up from 3,500 to 3,800 a day, or more than 10,000 individuals. The trend in the return movement began in November in the Chaman area. In November 6,900 persons crossed back into Afghanistan, the majority of them at the end of the month. For December alone, the figure is five times higher with some 31,000 persons having returned as of the 25th.

In the Northwest Frontier Province, although we do not have precise figures for the number of persons returning to Afghanistan on a daily basis, our colleagues in the field report an increase in spontaneous repatriation of refugees, many of whom are returning to Kabul. They also reported that the bus fare to the Torkham border has risen after the inauguration of the new government. One reason for the rise in transp ort prices, according to the bus drivers, is that few passengers are available for the return leg of the journey to Peshawar.

Most of those returning to Afghanistan are urban refugees who are hopeful of getting jobs with the UN system, the government, newly opening embassies or aid agencies that are re-establishing their own operations in Kabul. People who had property or business in Kabul are also returning. The majority of those going back now leave their families behind in the safety of Pakistan but hope to have them join later if all goes well. Many of the new arrivals we have spoken to, both in Jalozai and at Kotkai, have also expressed the wish to voluntarily return.

In Kabul, we completed the distribution of winter packages yesterday to 1,500 IDPs living in districts around the capital city. The assistant package includes cooking and heating stoves supplied with coal, warm clothing, blankets, jerrycans and a small cash grant. Since we re-established our presence in Kabul earlier this month, we have distributed aid to some 3,000 families in and around Kabul to help them cope with the harsh winter. We are also gearing up preparations to send to Kabul 54 trucks of relief material for distribution to 10,000 needy families in central Afghanistan. The relief items are scheduled to be shifted from our Peshawar stock within the next two weeks.