Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Kabul 06 Dec 2001

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Kabul by U.N. Spokesperson Yusuf Hassan (excluding questions and answers session).

** Yusuf Hassan, UN Spokesperson

A delegation of 12 exiled senior Afghan professionals has been in Kabul since Tuesday. The delegation, which consists of 8 men and 4 women based in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan, is here to meet and exchange views with Afghan professionals. They have already meet women, youth and student groups. The visit sponsored by the UN is part of an on-going exercise to involve the Afghan civil society in the peace process.

Now that much of the northern Afghanistan is in the grip of winter, suffering of internally displaced persons, especially children, has worsened. Four children have died in Camp 45 in Mazar and at least a child and an adult in an IDP camp in Sari-pul. Some surveys suggest that the nutritional condition of the internally displaced around Mazar is quite serious. A significant number of people are suffering from severe to moderate malnutrition.

The deteriorating condition of the internally displaced persons who have found shelter in IDP camps along the Afghanistan-Iran border is also a cause for growing concern. Aid workers have not been able to distribute shelter materials, blankets and food to the newly arrived IDPs at the Makaki and Mile 46 camps.

Without proper shelter, many of the displaced persons are digging holes in the ground in order to protect themselves from the sub-zero night temperatures and sandstorms. Three children, aged one to six, have died in the two camps As Result of hunger and cold.

More internally displaced persons continue to arrive at the Maslakh camp near Herat, mainly from Changcharan district in Ghor province. Many of the newly arrived appear to be malnourished. Due to insecurity and weather conditions, the UN has been able to deliver only limited quantities of food supplies to Badghis and Ghor.

UN High Commissioner for Refugee Ruud Lubbers welcomed yesterday's Agreement on Afghanistan signed near Bonn, hailing it as "an important and historic milestone." Addressing the Afghan Support Group yesterday in Berlin, Lubbers noted that the return of the world's largest population of refugees and displaced people would have a significant impact on the stabilisation, rehabilitation and economic recovery of Afghanistan.

UNHCR reaffirms its support in creating a lasting peace in Afghanistan. UNHCR will continue to work toward four objectives in the coming months: 1. prepare for the safe and voluntary repatriation of refugees; 2. help stabilise the situation within Afghanistan by providing protection and assistance to internally displaced people; 3. maintain adequate emergency response capacity in the region; and 4. continue to provide protection and assistance to refugees in countries of asylum.

UNHCR will maintain a "two-pronged" approach focusing both on the assistance inside Afghanistan and on the needs of the refugees in neighbouring countries. In the next six months, the UN refugee agency plans to assist some 500,000 displaced people and returnees in Afghanistan, while maintaining preparedness to support up to 380,000 new refugees in Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asia republics.

The rate of return from Iran to western Afghanistan is increasing in the past days. Yesterday, we had a record of 2,000 Afghans crossing the Dogharoun border returning mainly to Herat. More than 24,000 refugees have returned since the Taliban's hold on Herat was broken on 12 November. A few of them are heading back to their homes as far eastward as Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces in the northwest tip of the war-torn country.

As soon as security allows, we hope to re-open our office in Islam Qala, across from Dogharoun, to monitor the border and the returns from Iran.

A convoy of 6 trucks are scheduled to leave Turkmenistan today for Afghanistan, carrying 1,000 tents, 7,000 blankets, 4,000 sleeping bags, 100 heating stoves 480 cooking stoves and 5,000 soap bars. UNHCR plans to delivery the supplies to displaced people in Badghis Province, northeast of Herat. Part of the shipment (3,000 blankets and 1,500 soap) will be distributed to displaced people in Maimana in Faryab province, further north.

During the last days, UNHCR Herat delivered 100 tents, 1,000 blankets, 100 plastic sheeting and 20 school tents (5-6 family-size) to displaced people in h and surrounding areas.

While UNHCR is prepared eventually to assist the voluntary return of Afghan refugees once their safety is assured in Afghanistan, we must repeat our appeal to countries of asylum not to forcibly return refugees at this time. We are still seeing refugees fleeing Afghanistan, especially from the southern and eastern part of the country.

Yesterday, there were still more than 2,000 people stuck in the no-man's land at the Chaman border, fleeing for safety. UNHCR has transferred over 16,000 refugees to Roghani camp from Kili Faizo camp at the border.

UNHCR will resume the relocation of refugees from Peshawar and Jalozai camp on Saturday. The authorities have agreed yesterday to provide heightened security, following Tuesday night's attack on our staff near Peshawar.

UNHCR sincerely hopes that this was a one-off incident and that the authorities will ensure the security both humanitarian workers and the refugees. As an indication of the refugee's wish to be relocated from the over-crowded Jalozai site to a better-equipped refugee camp, some 400 refugees came forward to express their disappointment over their cancelled transfer on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the head of the UNICEF sub-office in Mazar reports from Termez that the latest batch of winter emergency relief goods sent from Termez to Tairatan were health-related-including birthing kits, water purification tablets and syringes. On the crucial topic of education, UNICEF continues to negotiate with authorities in Hairatan to open schools for girls there and invite female teachers to return to the classroom.

On the crucial topic of education, UNICEF continues to negotiate with authorities in Hairatan to open schools for girls there and invite female teachers to return to the classroom. Back on the first of this month, 550 girl students and 42 female teachers joined 620 boy students and 20 male teachers at a local school, which has been receiving educational supplies and textbooks from UNICEF.

UNICEF is also working with a national NGO, having created 50 classes in the Sakhi IDP camp in Mazar to benefit around 5,000 children this winter. Local teachers and supervisors, both men and women, have been hired for the programme.

In Faizabad, UNICEF field staff says that they are getting ready to distribute non-food items for displaced Afghans living with host families in the Argo district. The distribution of blankets, sweaters and shoes will be in collaboration with the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Also in Faizabad, 15 teams of teachers have just finished a refresher training course in health education, and are going to start work on a five-month project this week, in which 13 teams of women will provide health education to mothers in the home, and two teams of men will do the same for fathers through mosques.

In the Health Sector, WHO is collecting health data from the IDP camps in the Herat area where approximately 350,000 people are living. About half the people who managed to consult health staff are suffering acute respiratory infection. Over 2,100 cases were reported last week alone. These infections, which include pneumonia, can be extremely serious, and are the number one killer in Afghanistan. Diarrhoeal diseases were also prevalent -another deadly illness. Other diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid and measles have been reported in the camps.

The WHO notes the situation in the Maslakh camp is especially serious, with thousands of people exposed to the elements, languishing without adequate shelter as winter arrives. In general, the WHO is attempting to get better data on deaths in the camps, which is now considered unreliable. To assist with sanitation, WHO has also begun building 200 latrines in the Maslakh camp.

Overall, WHO continues to provide essential medicines and equipment to the health facilities in Herat. In the eastern region, WHO is working with local health authorities and NGOs to control the ongoing outbreak of malaria, particularly in Laghman province. The WHO has found the incidence of malaria has actually increased since October. Over 1,250 cases were recorded in just two hospitals in November, including 38 deaths.

A prevalence of Plasmodium Falciparum - the most deadly form of malaria, is reported. WHO has provided anti-malarial drugs to the affected areas, and is circulating malaria control guidelines in Pashto to health clinics. WHO estimates there are 2-3 million cases of malaria in Afghanistan each year, Malaria transmission should normally drop dramatically this month as the temperature cools.

WHO has reports that the health situation in Ghazni and the southeastern region in general continues to worsen, with fewer staff available, poor communications and transportation due to looting. There is a reported increase in acute respiratory infections and suggestion that malnutrition in children and pregnant women will continue to worsen.

Overall in 2001, hospital reports indicate that 15% of children in hospital were severely malnourished. The WHO office believes there is a heightened risk of a measles outbreak in the region, with more children susceptible as a result of not being vaccinated. WHO continues to supply essential medical supplies and drugs to the health facilities in the region in co-operation with local health authorities and NGOs.

In order to boost food supplies to the Provinces of Ghor and Badghis in the central west of Afghanistan, WFP will start today, to rail food from Turkmenabad in Turkmenistan to the border town of Torghundi, which will be transhipped to trucks and despatched through Herat directly onto Ghor and Badghis. Over the next six days, 12,000 tonnes of food will be taken by rail to the border town for onward transhipment. That is three trains of 4,000 tonnes every other day.

WFP estimates about 436,000 people need food assistance in these two provinces, which is about 21,800 tonnes of food for six months. WFP has delivered almost half of the amount needed and will continue to give extremely high priority to food deliveries in these provinces by despatching food both directly from its warehouses in Herat and across the border from Turkmenabad.

This is part of WFP's highly complex and effective spider's web of logistics network, using supply routes running out of five countries and maximising a combination of aircraft, rail, barge and road deliveries. At any one time, the Agency has over 2,000 trucks of all shapes, sizes and ages transporting food aid along its delivery network.

WFP has also set up a temporary airlift from Tajikistan to Faizabad in the north east region which restarted yesterday after a few days of bad weather, as well as built extra storage facilities, bought and contracted more trucks and installed telecommunications networks inside Afghanistan.