The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's UN briefing by U.N. Spokesperson Christine McNab (excluding question and answers session).
** Christine McNab, UN Spokesperson
Some notes to begin: As you all probably know, Mr Francesc Vendrell, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan, is in Kabul today. He has held a series of meetings, and will be meeting with Hamid Karzai in about 30 minutes. He will depart Kabul tomorrow morning.
Last night, Mr Brahimi met with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Abdul Sattar - the meeting reconfirmed Pakistan's support to the efforts of the United Nations. Mr Brahimi is en route to New York, where he will be providing advice to Security Council members as they debate over the next few days the possibility of creating a multinational force, and he is expected to return to the region some time in the middle of next week.
Before I go on to news about convoys, some news on flights out of Kabul, that you may be personally interested in. We have six flights out of Kabul tomorrow. 3 in the morning. 3 in the afternoon. As of this evening, all 88 seats are booked. And no one is on the wait list. Since so many people want to leave, we want to make sure every single seat is taken. Anyone late for check-in will not get on their flight... so, for those interested in leaving - but not confirmed, you might want to come by at 8.00 tomorrow, in case a slot opens up on the morning flights. If you want to try your luck on afternoon slots, we suggest you come by with your luggage at noon.
In Humanitarian News: The Office of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan notes many reports of more displaced people, in a number of areas. Hundreds of families are reported displaced from the Tora Bora area due to the bombing campaign. Accurate information and figures on the humanitarian situation in the East is difficult to obtain due to insecurity in this area. Meanwhile, in the Kunduz area, the number of internally displaced people has grown to between 4,000 and 5,000 in three camps.
The security situation in the Kunduz area and in much of the Southern region of the country is similarly unstable. Armed groups operating north of Kunduz and on the road between Kunduz and Kabul makes it difficult for relief operations to be carried out according to needs, and national staff have advised that it is not safe for international staff to return to the Kunduz area.
In the border town of Spin Boldak in the South East the security is still not satisfactory, there are reports that a volatile situation there is preventing access by humanitarian staff to asylum seekers in the area. Following the departure of the Taliban from Kandahar there has been wide scale looting, according to reports received by UNOCHA yesterday. Several violent incidents have taken place on the road from Kandahar to Herat. The road is only sporadically accessible due to armed elements active in the area. The reestablishment of UN offices in Mazar is underway as we speak and office modules provided by the UK were transported from Termez today.
UNICEF reports that six C-130 Hercules transport planes will be leaving Europe tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday loaded with high-protein porridge for people in Afghanistan. The aircraft, carrying 85 metric tones of UNIMIX, have been loaned by Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. The UNIMIX will be delivered to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and Turkmenabad, Turkmenistan, for onward distribution to Herat and Mazar.
Now that the road from Kabul to Bamiyan has been opened, UNICEF has despatched a convoy direct from Islamabad to the Bamiyan area. The convoy left Islamabad this morning carrying 10,000 jerry cans and 10,000 blankets for distribution to needy families in the Bamiyan area. A UNICEF emergency officer returned from Herat last night. He reports that the town is lively, with some small arms fire but 'nothing serious'. UNICEF-sponsored teacher training is continuing in the town. In the local refugee camp, arrangements were made for the medical post to extend operating hours from the current Ramazan schedule.
The World Food Programme is concerned about the 2,700 newly displaced persons who have congregated on the Iranian/Afghanistan border in Zaranj. While information is still incomplete, the IDPs appear to be recently displaced from Kandahar, having fled from the violence and food insecurity in the region. According to initial reports, some families have found refuge within the village, y et 197 families -or 1,200 people- are living outdoors, in an open area, "with no shelter". The group includes small children and pregnant women. WFP's implementing partner, ACTED, is currently doing a rapid needs assessment. WFP will provide food assistance and help them in their return, when the security situation allows.
In Faizabad yesterday, the weather cleared, permitting a Hercules C-130 to deliver 17 metric tonnes of wheat from the WFP warehouse based in southern Tajikistan. The high mountain passes around Faizabad are blocked with snow making it extremely difficult for trucks to access the region. With these airlifts and other deliveries, WFP is helping more than 274,000 people in areas affected by snow in the northeast. Here in Kabul, WFP has now distributed for four days - to feed the 1.3 million residents identified as highly vulnerable. Four WFP rail cars filled with wheat finally made it across the Friendship Bridge this morning. The cars were held up yesterday due to maintenance problems with the rail lines.
UNHCR is reporting bad news - a 30-year old truck driver carrying fencing for the Roghani camp was shot yesterday near Chaman. According to information received, the shooting incident occurred between security forces and thieves attempting to rob the contents of the truck that had broken down on the way. The police, who arrested two of the robbers, stated it was an isolated incident. Still, authorities are heightening vigilance around the work area of UN and other aid agencies assisting refugees in Chaman. UNHCR regrets the death of an innocent person.
On the operational front, the Roghani camp is full but UNHCR will open a new camp at Landi Kareze tomorrow. It is located on the Killi Faizo - Roghani axis, some 3 kilometres before the Roghani camp and has space for 10,000 refugees. Around 130 tents have been pitched up on the new campsite and one water tanker has been installed by OXFAM. 4,500 refugees remain in the Killi Faizo camp.
For the third straight day this week, the number of Afghans returning from Pakistan to Afghanistan is getting higher. Yesterday UNHCR border monitors at Chaman recorded 1,900 persons crossing the border back to Afghanistan. Since Monday, over 5,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan, marking a trend of return among Afghan populations from neighbouring countries. So far the largest numbers of returns are from Iran -over 25,000 in recent weeks, particularly to northern Afghanistan.
UNHCR continues to supply much needed aid to the west, with a 14 truck convoy expected in Herat today. It carries tents, blankets, stoves, jerry cans and other domestic items. A third convoy, comprising ten truckloads of goods for an estimated 1,000 beneficiary families, is also scheduled to leave Mashad today.
The World Health Organization also notes the urgent need for more health services in Herat. Right now, only five clinics are serving the health needs of about 300,000 people - with a sixth clinic to open soon. Acute respiratory infections, including pneumonia, are plaguing the people gathered in and around Herat. There is also much concern a bout of tuberculosis in the overcrowded Maslakh camp - WHO will offer guidance on how to better control this deadly disease in difficult conditions.
The WHO is working with Afghans to start planning for reconstruction of the health sector here in the country. Earlier this week, the WHO hosted a major gathering involving UN agencies, Afghan and international NGOs along with representatives from Afghan University. The group noted the priorities which include: continuing emergency assistance, training of health workers and other capacity building, a baseline health & population survey, and empowerment of female workers. They invited the international community to assist with the reconstruction of the health sector, without imposing rules and models. They also emphasised the urgent need to pay health care workers, and to ensure care for landmine victims and others with disabilities. The next meeting is planned for Kabul on December 26th, following the handover to the Interim Administration, and Dr Suhaila Seddiqi's induction as Minister of Public Health.