Press conference by Aleem Siddique, Acting Spokesperson, UNAMA

UNAMA: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Aleem Siddique from UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office and welcome to our weekly press briefing. As usual, I have some news from UN agencies around the country, after which I will be happy to take your questions.

UN to assist 1,500 displaced families from Garmser district

Starting with Garmser district of Helmand province, there has been much media coverage on displacement of people from Garmser district following recent military operations. UN agencies in the south will be providing assistance to around 1,500 battle-displaced families from Garmser district of Helmand province. Of these 1,500 families, around 900 are currently located in Lashkar Gah and 600 in different villages of Garmser district. These families will receive essential food and shelter, which are already pre-positioned in Lashkar Gah. This assistance is provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

WFP truck destroyed on the ring road

On 17 May a convoy of 79 commercial trucks loaded with United Nations World Food programme (WFP) food left Kandahar city, destined for Herat and Nimroz provinces. The convoy, which was escorted by the Afghan National Police, was attacked by anti-government elements using small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades on the main ring road in Maiwand district of Kandahar province. Two trucks loaded with WFP food were hit by rocket-propelled grenades and burned down. This resulted in the loss of 84 tons of wheat for 10,500 people. Thankfully, no human casualties have been reported.

In a separate incident, on 8 May, a commercial truck with 48 tons of WFP wheat for 6,000 people went missing on the way from Kandahar to Herat

According to WFP, more than 30 attacks against commercial vehicles or convoys carrying WFP food were reported in 2007. In total, 870 tons of food, valued at US dollars 730,000, were lost in the last year. In at least four of the incidents last year, vehicle crew members and Afghan police escorts were either killed or wounded.

The United Nations is working to deliver life-saving assistance to Afghanistan’s poorest people under a strict principle of impartiality. We condemn the unscrupulous theft and pointless destruction of such life-saving food aid. This is particularly upsetting in light of the current food security situation we are facing in Afghanistan. We want an immediate end to these attacks, which deny vital food from Afghanistan’s poorest communities and goes against all the Islamic and traditional values of the Afghan people.

WFP launches food for work project, building schools and clearing irrigation canals in Jawzjan province

WFP has just started its food for work project in Aqcha district of Jawzjan province. The project will help construct five primary schools in Kalta Shakh, Jangal Arigh, Jangal Arigh Mahajer, Kotana Qar and Yanda Arigh villages. This project will also result in clearing over 41 km of vital irrigation canals in villages on the outskirts of Aqcha district. WFP has allocated over 222 tons of food for this project

In a separate effort, WFP has allocated nearly 360 tons of food rations for women, disabled and elderly-headed households in all eight districts of Dai Kundi province.

UNICEF Trains Health Workers in Herat

If we turn our attention to Herat, many of you will be aware that Afghanistan has made huge strides in reducing maternal and child mortality in recent years. 80,000 children are now saved every year thanks to improvements in healthcare but we still have a long way to go. In an effort to further reduce the maternal mortality rate, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in cooperation with the Directorate of Public Health, has launched a three-week training course on Basic Emergency Obstetric Care for 16 medical doctors and midwives in Herat city. Healthcare workers graduating from the course will be able to facilitate safe deliveries in health facilities in rural and remote areas and recognize danger signs in pregnancies.

158 doctors and midwives from the four provinces in western Afghanistan have already received such training.

Also in Herat, a UNICEF-funded school was inaugurated in Kohsan district of Herat city recently. The school will provide education for around 1,500 students, of which 615 are expected to be girls.

FAO distributes animal feed to thousands of Afghan farmers

Moving to the work of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 272 tons of concentrate animal feed will be distributed over the coming weeks to farmers in Bamyan and Dai Kundi provinces by FAO.

A total of 2,730 farmers in Waras, Yakowlang and Panjab districts of Bamyan province and Sangtakht, Kiti and Shikhminan districts in Dai Kundi province will benefit from this.

Each beneficiary will receive 100 kg of animal feed, sufficient for feeding four sheep or goats or one cow and calf for up to 50 days.

This is in addition to 60 tons of concentrate animal feed already provided by FAO to 1,200 farmers in Bamyan province in late March.

UNDP Supports Afghan National Disaster Management Authority in Preparing Provincial Disaster Management Plans

As part of a nationwide project, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported a training workshop for disaster management specialists from Herat province between 7 and 17 May.

UNDP and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) are supporting the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) in preparing Provincial Disaster Management Plans, which in the long run can save lives in local communities during, before and after natural disasters.

In the first phase, the project is being implemented in Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kabul, Dai Kundi, Paktya, Nangarhar and Kandahar. The workshop in Herat province was the second of its kind, following a first training session in Kunduz.

Some 50 disaster management workers from Herat province took part in the workshop. A team of 10 members (male and female) from the Provincial Emergency Preparedness and Response Commission were trained to teach disaster management techniques to the general public through face to face training and public awareness campaigns using community radios, TV channels and print media.

That is all from me; I will now open the floor to questions.


BBC: I have two questions. Do you have any idea whether the attackers on the WFP convoy were Taliban, armed groups or anybody else? On the internally displaced persons in Garmser district of Helmand province: do you have any up-to-date information on their condition?

UNAMA: On the WFP attacks, I do not have any details on who is behind those attacks. The important point is not who is behind the attacks, but what the consequences of such attacks are. When the United Nations is trying to reach those people who need our help the most, these attacks are depriving the most vulnerable parts of Afghan society from receiving our assistance. We want to send a strong message today that these attacks must stop. They are preventing us from reaching people who need our assistance and people will suffer as a result of their actions.

On Garmser district, UN agencies have been working closely with local authorities on the ground to assess how many families have had to leave their homes due to the fighting. What we can tell you is that experience shows that, when such incidents do occur, often families leave their homes temporarily and return home very quickly as soon as it is safe to do so. That is why quite often the initial media reports we see seem high but within a matter of days the number of people requiring assistance comes down quite drastically because people are obviously keen to return home. Our assessment has shown that there is a need for 1,500 families who have not been able to return to their homes, who will need shelter and food during the time they are away from home. UN agencies are gearing up; they have assistance pre-positioned: essential shelter materials such as tarpaulin, essential food and cooking materials are being provided to the most vulnerable people in need.

Ariana TV [translated from Dari]: The Government of Afghanistan has shown a strong reaction to the report of the Special Rapporteur. The Supreme Court has summoned some journalists. What is your view on this?

UNAMA: You will recall from last week’s press conference that both I and Professor Alston, the Special Rapporteur, made clear that he is not a UN official, he is an independent expert. He is appointed and reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The statement issued by him was an outline of his preliminary findings from his visit to Afghanistan and he is due to publish his final report towards the end of this year. No doubt there will be many discussions with all the relevant parties and Professor Alston over the coming months on the important issues he has raised. UNAMA has always made clear that all parties to the conflict must respect both Afghan and international law when it comes to the safety and welfare of Afghan civilians. We continue to coordinate with the military forces to ensure that every effort is made to protect civilians. We note the considerable efforts that the military forces have made to minimize civilian casualties which have resulted in fewer reported civilian casualties in recent months than compared to previous months. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency on anyone’s part; we must continue all efforts to ensure that every Afghan civilian is protected. We need to work together to achieve this; we need to work with the Government of Afghanistan and with the military forces and that is where our focus is right now.

On the second part of your question: Our legal advice suggests that it is for the Media Commission to impose any sanctions on the media or to investigate any alleged media violations before such a case should be referred to the Attorney General or the Supreme Court. We will only see a stronger effective regulation once the rule of law is adhered to and we are making this point to the Government.

GMA [translated from Dari]: Regarding the people affected in Garmser district, what kind of assistance is being provided? Have you started distribution or you are planning to start?

UNAMA: We hope to start as soon as possible; we are talking to the local authorities to identify the exact locations of these families. The food is positioned and ready to go, and we hope that this can start within the next day or so. In terms of exact type of the assistance, can I ask you to speak to my colleagues from UNHCR and WFP who are both present here today? They can outline exactly what type of assistance is being provided. My understanding is that they include essential food items, cooking items and shelter materials such as tarpaulin sheets.

Press TV: Food prices continue to surge in Afghanistan and now it is becoming unaffordable for people to run their life as usual. Reports from the Afghan Ministry of Public Health indicate that people, due to lack of adequate access to food, are becoming malnourished and micro-nutrient deficient, I would like to know if your organization has any programmes to ease this crisis?

UNAMA: As I am sure you are aware, the food situation is not only affecting Afghanistan but it is a challenge that the whole world community is currently facing. The Government of Afghanistan should be credited for being among the first governments in the world to take action on this issue, with discussions that were first initiated last year between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community on how to handle this situation. May I refer you to the joint appeal that was launched specifically to tackle this issue back in January; it was a joint UN and Government of Afghanistan appeal for around 80 million dollars. You will know that that appeal is now fully funded and the food distribution has been happening for a number of months, specifically to help those people most severely affected by the rise in food prices. The food assistance under that appeal is set to continue until July of this year and it will benefit millions of Afghans around the country.

Meanwhile, discussions with the Government of Afghanistan are ongoing to look what steps need to be taken once food from this appeal comes to an end. We need to see two or three key actions. We need to look at what the short-term needs of this country will be, and those discussions are currently ongoing, looking at import of wheat from neighbouring countries, looking at where else wheat can be brought in from. In the medium term we need to look at the viability of creating strategic grain reserves to be able to ride out periods of time when food becomes an issue. And in the longer term, Afghanistan need’s to pay more attention to building the capacity of Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, so that Afghanistan can become self-sufficient in food. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is playing a leading role in assisting the Government of Afghanistan in rehabilitating the agricultural sector so that we can avoid food insecurity in the future.

Saba TV [translated from Pashto]: In the near future, the security responsibility for Kabul city will be handed over to Afghan security forces. What is UNAMA’s view on this?

UNAMA: We welcome the announcement from the Government of Afghanistan that it will be taking over responsibility for security in Kabul. It is a strong signal of the leadership demonstrated by the Afghan Government. We want to see more of this, the Afghan Government taking over responsibility for security in this country and we see to this as an encouraging sign for the future.

Thank you very much; have a good day. We look forward to seeing you next week.

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