Afghanistan + 1 more

UN press briefing in Kabul 05 Dec 2001

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News and Press Release
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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE U.N. OFFICES IN KABUL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Kabul by U.N. Spokesperson Khaled Mansour (excluding questions and answers session).

** Khaled Mansour, UN Spokesperson

Good Evening. Afghanistan crossed a landmark today. Most probably, all of you by now have seen and read the news about the successful conclusion of the Bonn Talks. We now have an agreement acceptable to all the parties and it will hopefully lead in a couple of years to an elected Government for Afghanistan.

Mr. Hamid Karzai will lead the Interim Administration, agreed on in Bonn. It will assume office on 22 December. Five vice Chairpersons and 24 Ministers will assist him.

The Interim Authority shall consist of this Interim Administration, a Special Independent Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, and a Supreme Court.

There are many other provisions in the agreement about the functions, responsibilities and procedures for these various bodies, as well as a strong support for the inclusion of women and respect for human rights.

The conclusion of the Bonn Talks is but the beginning of a long and hard road for the Afghan people and their leaders. There is a lot of work to be done, not only to help six million needy Afghans cope with this harsh winter and the returned of some four million refugees, but to reconstruct and re-build this shattered country.

And now let me turn to humanitarian activities. I would like to speak on a disease that is taking a heavy toll on Afghans. The World Health Organization is concerned about the declining situation for the detection and control of tuberculosis in Afghanistan. WHO is also concerned about the possibility of further emergence of drug-resistant strains of the disease.

Tuberculosis is easily spread from person to person amongst those living in crowded, poorly ventilated conditions. Those who were previously infected, but never ill, are now at further risk because the disease can spring back to life and cause serious illness when people are especially stressed - for example when they're concerned about adequate food, shelter and warm clothing.

There are an estimated 60-70,000 new cases of tuberculosis every year in Afghanistan. Death rates are especially high for women - of the 15,000 people who die of the disease each year, 12-13,000 are women. In the current situation new TB control drugs are not reaching those who may need them. But what could be worse, those who were following a treatment course may not be able to finish it, laying the foundation for drug-resistance.

As with other areas of the health crisis, lack of trained personnel is a constant concern. The World Health Organization will sponsor training for detection and control of tuberculosis before the year's end.

The WHO will provide training and supplies to staff in the 30 existing TB Control Centres, and will work to integrate TB diagnostic facilities into existing hospitals as well.

The WHO has also had an update from Herat today: The medical officer reports that there is a shortage of medicine in hospitals in the city. Three cases of rabies have been recently diagnosed, and one person has died from the disease. The WHO has been asked to provide anti-rabies vaccine.

In partnership with NGOs and UN Agencies, the World Health Organization will lead assessments throughout Afghanistan. The objective is to collect countrywide data by the end of January 2002.

The World Health Organization has finished an assessment in Kabul city, where it found that of the 72 health facilities surveyed, almost all are in 'poor' or 'fair' condition, indicating an urgent need to rehabilitate these facilities and supply essential drugs and equipment.

It must be noted that Kabul, as the capital of Afghanistan, has a disproportionate number of health facilities and health staff compared with the rest of the country.

The assessment also showed that the number of doctors in the city has decreased significantly over 2000, from well over 1,000 last year to 759 this month. Many have left for security reasons and the World Health Organization is concerned this is straining an already weak system.

However WHO has also learned that about 500 job applications have been received by local health authorities in Kabul, indicating a popular desire to get back to work in the health sector.

In total, of the 3,570 health staff in Kabul City, 1,282 or roughly one third are women. Of the 759 doctors in Kabul City, 251 are women. This is perhaps encouraging in that it represents more female staff than would be expected based on popular reports - but also indicates that training of health staff in all areas must be a priority, and that women must be encouraged to apply. Trained women are urgently needed in maternal and obstetric care.

This week the assessment will move to rural districts around Kabul, and some provinces in the central region. Ideally, WHO would like to have countrywide results from similar assessments by the end of January 2002.

Kabul has 1 doctor for every 1,700 people. In sharp contrast, Bamyan province has 2 doctors serving its population of 434,000 people, or one doctor for every 217,000 people. Bamyan is just one example - most areas of Afghanistan are tremendously underserved.

Regarding the UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), it reiterated today that the ability of the UN to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan continues to be hamstrung by insufficient accessibility and overall insecurity.

On the other hand, provinces in the northeast, west and centre will be seriously affected by adverse winter weather. These are some of the areas worst affected by drought and conflict.

The UN and its partners have taken steps to continue providing assistance even to those areas which will be very difficult to access during the winter months. The measures include getting supplies into affected areas and making distribution to last through the winter months, importing snow removal equipment and avalanche teams, repairing roads, bridges and airports and use of traditional transport means such as horses and donkeys as well as airlifting supplies to reach particularly difficult areas fast enough.

UNOCHA believes that insecurity remains the single most serious hurdle affecting normal delivery of humanitarian assistance. The entire eastern and southern regions and parts of the north are difficult or impossible to reach.

One obvious reason for lack of access is to the continued bombardment by the coalition that is happening in the south. In some areas the presence of the Taliban fighters has contributed to insecurity. Looting and banditry continue to pose a threat in some areas.

In Mazar, the situation remains volatile, and we are concerned about increasing reports of looting and kidnapping which seems to target Tajik and Pashtun minorities. Several disappearances have also been reported. Armed robberies are also on the increase.

Despite these difficult conditions UN aid efforts continue. A UNHCR assessment mission yesterday visited the sprawling Maslak camp, west of Herat, where thousands of displaced people have arrived in the past weeks in search of assistance. The mission also brought in tents, blankets, mattresses and plastic sheeting to respond to the immediate needs and at least to ensure that everyone has shelter.

The situation in the camp reported to be chaotic and there is a need to improve water and sanitation, amongst others. UNHCR has been requested by other agencies to set up a registration system so that aid distribution can be done effectively for these people.

UNHCR hopes to resume aid distribution around Herat in the coming days. Conditions permitting, the UN refugee agency also hopes to re-open its field offices at the border town of Islam Qala west of Herat, and also its office further south in Farah Province, which had been looted.

Yesterday evening, UNHCR staff was ambushed by unknown gunmen as they were returning to Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. Three gunmen tried to stop UNHCR's two vehicles, one vehicle took three shots, but with considerable luck, no one was injured.

The incident happened around 4:30pm, as 6 staff members were returning to Peshawar after escorting a convoy of Afghan refugees to UNHCR's newly established Kotkai camp near the border with Afghanistan. Soon after they came out of Mohmand Agency, approaching Peshawar, three men began firing rifles at the first vehicle from the side of the road. While the first UN vehicle stopped and began to reverse, the second vehicle could not stop and overtook the first one and sped past the gunmen. This vehicle took at least three shots, but made it around a corner, where it came across a police patrol on the road.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme resumed this morning an airlift of food to Northeast Afghanistan after a break for several days due to bad weather. The airlift which started in the last week of November, was set up to bolster the existing truck deliveries in a bid to bring sufficient quantities of urgently needed food aid to 274,000 people living in the north east of the country.

Weather and snow is starting to affect food deliveries by trucks into the rural areas of the northeast provinces, as trucks are finding it difficult to get through on some routes. WFP needs to push in about 16,000 tonnes before the end of the year - about half has been delivered so far.

A WFP three-man Avalanche Control Unit today received their snow equipment, survival gear, portable altitude chambers (big sleeping bags with a zip right around into which you can pump air and lower the atmospheric pressure), skis and snowmobiles from the Pakistani customs. The team will take a couple of days to get their gear in order and then they will move into Faizabad, hopefully by the weekend.

Today a record amount of WFP food trucks were dispatched from Peshawar for the Central Highlands, another areas to be affected by snow. The 73 trucks carried more than 2,300 tonnes of wheat. If WFP could we keep up this rate then it will be able to complete despatches of the required 33,000 tonnes for 1 million people who live in the Central Highlands within the next 7 days.

Winter in many parts of Afghanistan is harsh. And winter in many parts of Afghanistan kills children, if there's not enough aid to fight the combined threats of cold, hunger and disease.

With that in mind, the UNICEF office in Herat will conduct a training course on Acute Respiratory Infection, this coming Saturday to next Thursday, for 40 health workers from NGOs that are active in the IDP camps.

A UNICEF-supported emergency vaccination drive against measles, which surges in winter, is scheduled to cover some 390-thousand children in 22 districts of the Western Region for a month's time from 20 December.

UNICEF is currently studying the need for repairs on available schooling facilities in the city. The goal is that with basic repairs done, the end of this week or early next week can open a school for girls. Looking ahead to the month's end, we hope the number of schools for girls in Herat will have grown to four.

UNICEF has heightened efforts to deliver and distribute winter emergency aid to the IDP camps in Herat. Around 10-thousand children-size sweaters and 7,000 mattresses arrived in Herat from Mashad, Iran a few days ago. And some 17,000 blankets, emergency health kits and high-protein biscuits will be arriving this week.