Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Kabul 14 Dec 2001

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is the near-verbatim transcript of today's press briefing in Kabul by the UN spokesperson, Yusuf Hassan. (Excluding the questions and answers session)

**Yusuf Hassan, UN Spokesperson

The UN Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, who arrived in Kabul yesterday, has held talks with a number of Afghan leaders. Yesterday, he met with Hamid Karzai, the chairman of the new Interim Authority. They discussed the planned transfer of power on 22 December, the deployment of a multi-national security force and the general situation in Afghanistan. Vendrell also meet with the Interior Minister, Younis Qanooni, and the visiting French and German Development Co-operation Ministers. The Deputy Special Representative left Kabul this morning for Islamabad.

There are some signs of stability and normalcy returning to parts of Afghanistan, including the return of more than 14,000 people to various parts of the country over the past week. More than 7,600 people returned from Iran.

Similarly, through the Chaman border crossing point from Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, 7,000 Afghans also returned home this week. A bit of caution regarding these return figures, however. Many of these Afghans may be returning for the Eid festivities and they are clearly not the poorest of refugees. Nevertheless, the return of 14,000 people over the last week is a positive sign.

Still, UNHCR cautioning Afghans not to rush back, nor should countries in the region rush any of the more than 3.5 million refugee's home with winter upon us. Moreover, the security situation in many parts of Afghanistan remains tense. For the record, Thursday saw more than 3,200 Afghans return via Dogharoun, in Iran, and Chaman, in southern Pakistan. On Wednesday, nearly 4,000 went home via the two border crossings. We don't have figures on other border crossings.

Refugees continue to arrive in Pakistan, however, and it's important that anyone seeking safety be allowed through. We are counting more than 200 Afghans a day arriving at our Killi Faizo transit site at Chaman. Overall in Pakistan UNHCR estimates that some 200,000 Afghans arrived in the country since 11 September, including some 35,000 people assisted in six UNHCR camps.

Inside Afghanistan, UNHCR currently has four international and 12 national staff in Mazar-i-Sharif, while additional staff are on stand-by in neighbouring Uzbekistan and will be dispatched to Mazar in the coming days. UNHCR is still hampered due to a lack of office space in Mazar. The UN refugee agency's office was looted and its staff is currently operating from WFP's premises. Staff in Mazar report that Wednesday and Thursday there was fighting in Maimana in Faryab Province and Pul-i-Khumri in Baghlan province, but UNHCR national staff who just returned to the town say that the situation is now calm. This is indicative of the instability and insecurity that still prevails in many parts of Afghanistan.

In Mazar-i-Sharif, together with the French NGOs ACTED and Solidarites, UNHCR is distributing aid to 1,000 people in Balkh Province, including tents, blankets, jerry cans buckets and plastic tarpaulins. In Baghlan Province, UNHCR is initially targeting aid to some 2,500 displaced Afghans who will receive various items including blankets, cooking stoves, buckets, jerry cans, plastic tarpaulins, soap and kitchen sets.

In Herat, UNHCR staff report that the situation is stable within the city limits, though as with most communities in Afghanistan, many heavily armed people are present in the city. From Herat, UNHCR plans to assist displaced Afghans living in Badghis and Ghor provinces, and in collaboration with IOM, it will undertake a registration of displaced Afghans in the massive Maslakh camp that shelters more than 200,000 persons.

In Kabul, UNHCR today distributed aid to 1,600 persons from stocks that were airlifted to the city's Bagram airfield yesterday on an Italian-government chartered Iluyshin 76 cargo plane.

Next week, UNHCR will begin distributing it emergency winter assistance kits to some 50,000 people living in 56 districts in Kabul, Logar, Wardak and Ghazni provinces

Yesterday, at 9 am, a private truck carrying WFP wheat slipped off an icy bridge on the road between Ishakashem and Faizabad in north- eastern Afghanistan. The driver, Naik Qadam Dawlad Qadamov died instantly and his assistant, who was also his son, injured. The bridge in Baharak district in Badakshan province, was covered with snow. The death of the driver is the first casuality in the WFP operation since the current emergency began.

Heavy snowfalls are reported in Badakshan. More than 15 cm of snow fell in the last three days. As a result of the unusually high snow falls, WFP has started distributing to the Teshkan district - an area which is now a priority due to the risk that it may be cut-off from access later in the winter. Yesterday, WFP distributed wheat to more than 20,000 people. It has also provided to local NGOs sufficient food to feed 142,000 people in the hard-to-reached districts of Badakshan province.

A three-member WFP Avalanche Control Team has arrived in Faizabad to assess the situation in the region. They are travelling to Ishakeshem to ascertain the snow and avalanche constraints that humanitarian organisations may face in the coming months given the heavy snowfalls, which could block access to communities in need of urgent assistance.

In Kabul, WFP has distributed 7,500 metric tonnes of wheat up to 900,000 people. The citywide distribution is now going smoothly, in contrast to the difficulties that WFP had in the first few days. One WFP staff was severely beaten, two drivers were injured, two trucks had their windshields broken, and one NGO staff has a fractured arm. This is one of the largest distributions ever undertaken by WFP in Afghanistan, and the violence illustrates the desperate situation that many Kabul residents are experiencing.

WFP plans to undertake food distributions in cities of Herat and Mazar.

WFP is increasing its staffing capacity in Afghanistan in response to improving security. WFP now has 24 international staff working in Kabul, Mazar, Herat and Faizabad.

While emergency aid is vital during the winter, UNICEF is not neglecting its longer-term goals. One of those, which is particularly crucial in Afghanistan, is basic education for all children, boys and girls. Basic education is one of the most cost-effective and sustainable ways to improve a country's economic prospects. It is not a quick fix, but on the other hand, it is never too soon to start. In a post-conflict situation, education is even more vital than during periods of prolonged peace. By introducing a routine, a system where children can go to school and be with other children in a classroom, we tell the community, "War is over."

In the east, some 2,600 sets of textbooks have been distributed to schools in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces this week, along with supplies for 3,000 students. Registration for the formal school year has started. Starting after Eid, UNICEF will supply 500 home-based schools for boys and girls around Kabul. These supplies will sustain the schools through the winter until the formal school year starts in March. UNICEF has supported 300 in the past, 200 are new schools. Supplies will include floor covering, plastic sheeting to cover windows, teachers' desks, chairs, (traditional heaters), textbooks, notebooks, pencils, blackboards, etc. UNICEF will also pay teachers a small cash incentive, so that they are not drawn away to other income-generating activities in the meantime.

UNICEF has received a report yesterday from its Jalalabad field office that about 1,000 families have moved from the area of Tora Bora to neighbouring districts, especially Koghiani. The authorities are asking for assistance in form of drinking water, food, warm clothes and shelter. The International Rescue Committee, HealthNet International and Medecins Sans Frontieres are supporting the IDPs in those districts.