Afghanistan + 1 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 28 Jan 2002

News and Press Release
Originally published
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. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is now in Vienna, Austria, continuing a trip that saw him stopping in Kabul, Tehran and Qatar over the week-end. We have posted his speeches, transcripts of press conferences, photographs and other material on our website (, and you might want to have a look at it to have a thorough perspective.

While in Kabul, you probably know that the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Nigel Fisher, the current Regional Coordinator for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), as his Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan. We'll make available biographical note when it is available.

On the visit by Ms. Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, I just want to let you know that her arrival in Islamabad is slightly delayed. WFP will provide more information as soon as possible.

Finally, let me just mention that briefings at UNIC will take place from now on Mondays and Thursdays.

** Ariana Yaftali, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan

In Central Region security incidents and robberies in Kabul City have reportedly decreased over the last week. However, weapons are present in large numbers among the population, but these are slowly being recovered. Assistance convoys were held-up en route to Bamyan on two occasions (those responsible have reportedly been arrested).

Security concerns continue to restrict the movements of UN personnel outside Kabul City. A security assessment mission to Ghazni city on 21 January found that the road from Kabul to Ghazni itself is relatively secure, but not the outlying areas.

WHO has distributed medicines kits to Bamyan centre, covering 10,000 persons for three months. However, access to Bamyan is reportedly becoming more difficult due to water levels in the rivers.

In the north, a UNHCR team consisting of 6 members is undertaking a ten days need assessment trip to the North of Afghanistan, visiting Kunduz, Taloqan and Imam Sahib. The team will assess and document the protection needs and issues of current IDPs /returnees and identify potential protection issues related to repatriation of refugees, (especially concerning the IDPs currently at the islands on the Tajik/Afghan border). They will also assess the percentage of population displaced within and outside villages/areas of origin in the area they visit. They also intend to assess immediate and long-term humanitarian needs and gaps and determine how UNHCR or other NGOs and UN agencies can meet these needs.

The security situation is stable, though internal political problems have resulted in local level conflicts. Two pilot projects for IDP repatriation are taking place - 139 families to Zare and 158 families to southern Balkh from Chimtal camp. Assessments of their needs in the areas of origins are ongoing.

In the east, concentration on Nangarhar province continues due to security restrictions in other areas requiring urgent assistance. Restrictions may be relaxed if security assessments of Kunar and Laghman provinces are positive.

The distribution of food to vulnerable populations in Nangarhar has commenced, and plans exist for Kunar and Laghman pending the outcome of security assessment. 1.2 million beneficiaries will be targeted over the next two months with over 4500MT of food. Meanwhile, distribution of non-food items to IDPs in Kunar is ongoing. Preliminary information suggests that both local and displaced population may be in need of non-food items. The countrywide measles vaccination campaign is starting in Nangahar, as has the anti-malaria campaign.

In the west, security around Herat is good at present though problems linger in parts of Badghis. However, aid agencies are getting into Gormach District in Badghis, and food aid is being provided. In some districts of Badghis Province, currently showing pockets of malnutrition, emergency health services and primary health care are being provided.

Agencies are preparing to distribute various non-food items to 1000 families in Ghor, 4000 families in Badghis and 4000 families in Gulran District of Herat Province. Security is also tenuous in southern Farah. However, the road to Ghor province, blocked by mud following the heavy rains of last week, is now open again. Plans are afoot to improve this road into an all-weather road.

During the third week of January, around 4,600 people (815 families) were registered as new IDPs in Maslakh Camp, mostly from the Kushka Valley and some food deficit areas of Qala-i-Naw district of Badghis Province. The same period also witnessed the arrival of about 50 families from Helmand. However, movements from Ghor are now much reduced. The health status reports from various agencies show a high incidence of acute respiratory infections), diarrhoea, skin infections and worm infestation as major health problems in all camps.

A re-registration will be conducted in the camps in Herat. The registration will provide agencies with a re-profiling of the IDP population and updated input for program planning in the respective district/villages of return. The opening of the new camp is planned by end of the month leading to the closure of Maslakh camp for new arrivals.

** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF

Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to share details today about the latest UNICEF activities in Herat, linked to supporting local efforts to rehabilitate and rebuild the education sector.

Herat City is where, as is the case in other parts of Afghanistan, learning and teaching have continued through the winter before the official start of the school year in March. In particular, we have been seeing the active resumption of education for girls and there's a palpable enthusiasm to catch up on what they have missed since the interruption of their education some six years ago.

In a recent meeting between girl students and UNICEF staff, one student after another stood up and said they were determined to be a doctor, a teacher, an engineer-and that they were determined to rebuild Afghanistan after what one girl said were "the dead years."

In the past one week, UNICEF has assisted in the provision of 44,000 notebooks to 22,000 students in the eight girls schools that re-opened in Herat City this year.

These eight were re-opened this winter following reconstruction work led by UNICEF and the German NGO HELP, including facility repairs, the provision of emergency heaters, chairs and various school supplies.

Also in the city, the training of teachers in basic competencies is continuing with UNICEF support, while a UNICEF water and sanitation initiative is currently installing water wells, equipped with hand-pumps, at three schools for use by 5,000 students and conducting a needs assessment at an additional 12 schools.

But by no means are any of these Herati schools out of the woods yet.

Considered to be some of the best in the city, they are still drab and cold, the walls are peeling, blue blankets act as makeshift doors that divide classrooms from corridors, and textbooks and stationary equipment are still lacking.

There's no question that large-scale assistance must continue.

The ongoing provision of basic materials, the upgrading of educational facilities and the training of teachers in Herat are part and parcel of a nationwide effort to restore learning opportunities for all Afghan children.

UNICEF is working in close partnership with the Ministry of Education of the Interim Administration, to make sure that at least 1.5 million children and their teachers have enough basic materials to return to their places of learning this spring.

And we look forward to updating you in the coming weeks and months on progress being made, with the hopeful remarks made by those students in Herat a small but clear indication of the link between education and the future of a nation.

** Lori Hieber-Girardet, Spokesperson for WHO

The World Health Organization is assisting the Afghan Ministry of Health to prepare its first planning meeting for reconstruction of the health sector. The meeting will be held for three days beginning Sunday February 3 in Kabul and will include regional health officials, health-related UN agencies, and key NGOs.

Afghanistan will be building up its health sector practically from scratch. It is important that this is an Afghan-led process, supported by international agencies and NGOs. Currently, at least 70% of the Afghan population is dependent on health services provided by the international community.

Ensuring Afghans living in rural areas have access to quality health care is a key concern. The Ministry of Public Health is currently conducting an assessment of health facilities in the countryside around Kabul. The World Health Organization will then move quickly to ensure these facilities are rehabilitated to provide needed services to the population.

A WHO team has completed a 10-day mission to Afghanistan to conduct a preliminary assessment of the pharmaceutical situation. It was the first WHO technical mission to Afghanistan since September 11.

Following visits to key sites of the pharmaceutical sector in Kabul, such as the drug manufacturing plant, warehouses and the Quality Control Laboratory, the team found that the overall pharmaceutical situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically.

Lack of essential drugs is very common in public health facilities. Expensive brand-named medicines available in private pharmacies remain unaffordable for most Afghans. In addition there is wide spread consumption of low quality and ineffective medicines procured both in public and private facilities. Recent events, however, have provoked a huge influx of drug donations in the country, temporally alleviating the recurrent shortages.

WHO has concluded that major technical and financial assistance will be required to develop pharmaceutical systems capable of offering an appropriate level of services critically needed by the population. WHO has proposed to donors a US$ 25 million budget for the first year to allow for the establishment of medical stores at the central and provincial levels.

In Herat, the World Health Organization is now supporting 23 clinics in under-served districts in Ghor, Badghis and Faryab. These clinics are receiving no support from NGOs or any other international agency. The World Health Organization is ensuring the districts where these clinics are located have adequate medical supplies in place to last through the next three harsh winter months. In addition, the World Health Organization is planning to set up six mobile clinics for the same region. At least six million Afghans have none or very little access to medical care. 50 of the country's 330 districts have no health facilities whatsoever.

In Islamabad, the World Health Organization is set to work with the Capital Police and Pakistani Ministry of Health to promote the improvement of primary health care for refugees in the city.

The Capital Police is trying to make a shift from "traditional policing" to "community policing". This means providing social services to the community in a bid to build confidence between authorities and the refugee population. As part of this campaign, the Capital police and local community on Saturday organised a one-day medical camp for Afghan refugees residing in clay houses in the I-11 sector. Throughout the day, various specialised doctors provided medical advice and treatment, free of charge to residents in the area.

In addition, the World Health Organization is planning to provide technical support to the Capital Police and Ministry of Health to train Lady Health Workers for the Afghan refugee community. There are an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Afghan refugees living in the area. The plan calls for one woman for every 3000 people to be trained to work on Mother and Child Health issues, and communicable disease control. The World Health Organization will also procure essential drugs for the refugees until they are repatriated or placed in proper camps.

** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre

Here in Pakistan, the most visible expression of the crisis in and around Afghanistan is of course linked to the presence of refugees and, as you know, UNHCR is the lead UN Agency to provide assistance to them. UNHCR's Representative in Pakistan is Hasim Utkan. He has been a discreet but strong presence in the overall effort to help refugees in Pakistan, and we are very pleased he cold be with us today.

** Hasim Utkan, Representative of UNHCR for Pakistan

The latest Afghan crisis has precipitated large-scale human displacement; further exacerbating what is by far the world's biggest refugee problem. The growing insecurity and instability in many parts of country especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan continues to uproot Afghans. Since September 2001,more than 200,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan posing considerable challenges to both the Government of Pakistan and UNHCR. Over the years, Pakistan has been exceptionally generous, opening its doors to the millions of the victims of Afghanistan's multiple and unrelenting crisis.

Once again, Pakistan has lent a helpful hand in the quest for solutions for Afghans displaced by recent events in their country. Thanks to the humanitarian gesture of President Musharraf and the full support of the Government of Pakistan, in particular the Ministry of SAFRON, together, we have been able mobilize resources, pre-position the necessary humanitarian supplies, establish new refugee camps, re-locate newly arrived Afghan refugees, and strengthen our capacity to protect and assist refugees.

In a remarkably collaborative effort with the federal government, provincial authorities in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, sister UN agencies such as WFP, UNICEF and WHO as well as non-governmental organizations, we have so far set-up 14 new refugee camps in the two border provinces which today host more than 151,000 refugees.

Together, we have overcome many obstacles and made real progress. Nowhere is this partnership more evident than in the makeshift Jalozai site near Peshawar, where more than 60,000 Afghans have for nearly a year endured enormous hardship. In two short months, UNHCR and CAR have re-located over 43,000 people from Jalozai to new Kotkai, Shalman, Basu and Old Bagzai refugee camps in the tribal areas. Today, large parts of the infamous settlement are bare and NGOs have began to take down the infrastructure in readiness for the day, in the very near future, when all its inhabitants would be moved to better-equipped camps and Jalozai officially closed.

Some 50,000 Afghans were allowed to enter Pakistan through the Chaman border crossing and registered at the Killi Faizo transit center before being transferred to the new refugee camps of Roghani, Landi Karez and Dara - all located in the Chaman district of Balochistan.

At the same, UNHCR and CAR have helped to move another 42,000 invisible refugees from Quetta to Mohamed Kheil and Latifabad refugee camps in Quetta district. Next, we would be intensifying efforts to identify invisible refugees who continue to live precariously in urban centers such as Peshawar and Quetta and relocate them to refugee camps where we better assist them.

The recent political changes in Afghanistan hold considerable promise for Afghan people, more so to millions of its displaced people. Already, there are signs that an increasing numbers of Afghans are spontaneously returning home. But it would be a while before Afghans begin to return home in significant numbers. However, in short time, increased security would allow UNHCR and humanitarian organizations to re-establish their presence in the country. This is already happening. Last week, UNHCR re-opened its Kandahar Sub-office as well as the Spin Boldak field office. We are looking at how we can quickly assist the thousands of internally displaced people in the southern region especially those in Spin Boldak. In the long term, UNHCR believes repatriation is the most sustainable solution to the Afghan refugee problem. As the reasons that led to their flight gradually begin to disappear, Afghan refugees would increasingly want to return home to actively participate in the difficult but rewarding task of re-building their shattered homeland. UNHCR is gearing up to assist as many as one million Afghans return home from the neighboring countries in March/April this year. Half of the estimated numbers are expected to return from Pakistan. UNHCR and the Government of Pakistan would carry out the repatriation operation jointly.

In the last ten years, UNHCR has helped more than 3 million Afghans repatriate home. Once they are assured that there is peace, security and opportunities for employment and sustainable livelihoods in their country, l have no doubt many Afghans would want to return.