UNAMA Year in Review May 2009: UN expresses concern on civilian casualties

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Various United Nations agencies and their partners began assisting thousands of victims of the flash floods that ravaged five provinces of Afghanistan in April and May.

Among the Agencies providing emergency food assistance was the World Food Programme (WFP), which delivered food rations to over 25,000 people affected by flooding in the north, north-east, and west Afghanistan. In addition, WFP also approved projects that would rebuild damaged infrastructure through projects including Food For Work.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that at least 15 people lost their lives and over a dozen of others were injured by floods in Herat, Badakhshan, Parwan, Faryab and Takhar provinces. More than 2,000 families were affected by the floods in Herat, while about 800 families were hit in Badghis province and hundreds more in several other provinces.

WFP also announced it assisted more than 1.6 million across Afghanistan with nearly 19,000 tons of food in the month of April, including 525,000 people affected by natural disasters, IDPs, and high food prices.

World Press Freedom Day was also celebrated in May with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and UNESCO urging the government, electoral candidates and the media to join together to protect press freedom.

UNAMA and UNESCO also urged that the "Kabul Declaration on Freedom of Expression in Afghanistan", which was developed and endorsed by a multi-stakeholder group of media outlets, civil society, and government officials to be swiftly put into force, amid concerns about the situation of freedom of expression in Afghanistan.

Meantime, the UN's Special Representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide expressed serious concern over reports of civilian casualties that took place in the western province of Farah on 4 May.

Some media reports suggested that up to 100 civilians, including women and children, were killed in air strikes carried out by United States and coalition forces against Taliban fighters.

With presidential and provincial elections just months away, the UN's envoy Mr Eide joined Afghanistan's human rights commission in asking all Afghans, including those who opposed the Government, to take part in the process scheduled for August.

"I believe that the opposition should know that those who wish to take part in the elections and respect the Constitution should have an open door to do that,"

Mr Eide told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.

"I don't underestimate the difficulties, but I think it is important to stretch out a hand and say it is better we compete at the ballot boxes than to fight in the battlefield," he added.

In late May, Mr Eide addressed the NATO Parliamentary Assembly session in Norway, where he told delegates that the international presence was yielding results.

The Special Representative also highlighted some improvements in Afghanistan, including the efforts of the Interior Ministry and the Afghan National Army, the reinvigoration of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the increased revenue collection by the Ministry of Finance.

On poppy cultivation Mr Eide said the prospects for 2009 show there will be a "significant decrease" in production and "a further increase of poppy free provinces."

Meantime, UNAMA opened two new offices in the north and south, in Sar-i-Pul and Tirin Kot, respectively, to promote development across the country. This brought the tally of offices to 20 in Afghanistan.

Finally, in May, Deputy Special Representative Chris Alexander left Afghanistan after spending six years in the country. He joined the Mission in 2005 and was previously Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan.

Speaking on his last day in Kabul, Mr Alexander said his message to the people of Afghanistan was to "work with us. The UN certainly believes in this. And work with the international community on a partnership of mutual accountability where Afghans lead, but in providing support where the international community has the right to hold Afghans accountable."

By Aditya Mehta, UNAMA

Read: 2009 Introduction
Read: 2009 January
Read: 2009 February
Read: 2009 March
Read: 2009 April
Read: 2009 May