Press conference with Dr. Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Spokesperson's Office
KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Dr. Nilab Mobarez UNAMA Spokesperson's Office.
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: In the name of God, good morning everybody and welcome to UNAMA’s press briefing today. I am Nilab Mobarez from UNAMA’s Spokesperson’s Office. Today’s briefing, as usual, will be in two parts: the first part will be some updates for you and then I will answer your questions. Thank you.
JOINT COORDINATION AND MONITORING BOARD
The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) is meeting for the seventh time later this week, between 5 and 6 February, in Tokyo, Japan. There have been some key achievements since the Afghanistan Compact was agreed. The Government has stepped up its service delivery, and the international community has increased its commitment. At the same time however, the security situation is now much more grave than it was in early 2006, and Afghanistan has seen an unparalleled growth of the narcotics industry.
At the last JCMB meeting in Kabul in October 2007, the former Special-Representative of the Secretary-General Tom Koenigs outlined an ambitious agenda. He highlighted four priority areas for coordination: security, governance, counter-narcotics and regional cooperation.
The last meeting put a spotlight on regional economic cooperation. At this week’s meeting, the JCMB will be addressing one of the thorniest problems that Afghanistan faces: how to tackle the narcotics industry.
Last spring’s record poppy harvest was, in part, the result of an alliance of convenience between insurgents and drug lords. Both have an interest in a weak state and try to foster corruption among government officials, including the police and provincial and district officials.
There has been intensive preparation; a serious and thorough debate to address the drugs issue by the government and key international partners in the run-up to this week’s JCMB meeting. We hope that this review and prioritisation of the implementation of the National Drug Control Strategy by the government and the international community will mark a new chapter in fight against narcotics in Afghanistan.
We will keep you fully updated on the discussions taking place in Tokyo this week and if any of you would like more information on the JCMB meetings please speak to myself or any of my colleagues after this briefing.
UPDATE ON HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE IN THE WEST
As you all know, the last few weeks have brought unexpected heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures across Afghanistan, particularly in the western region.
Led by the government - different partners, including UNAMA and other UN agencies, NGOs, provincial reconstruction teams and ISAF crisis teams are working together in order to prioritise humanitarian assistance to needy communities.
2,500 internally displaced families in Herat camps were provided with food and non-food items, including pulses, sugar and wheat, blankets, plastic sheeting, clothing and soap by UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF and IOM.
This breaks down as follows: 1,700 families in Maslakh camp; 650 families in Shaidai camp; and 150 families in Minaret camp.
The World Food Programme has already delivered eight tonnes of food to Farsi district in Herat and UNHCR has additional jerry cans, soap, plastic mats and kerosene heaters in Herat ready for distribution.
To address the issue of fodder for livestock, FAO has applied for funding to provide fodder to affected livestock owners.
We continue to work closely with all the key players on the ground in the west to ensure that assistance continues to arrive for those people who need our help today.
HERAT – UN PRESS CONFERENCE
As efforts continue to deliver humanitarian assistance to thousands of victims affected by heavy snowfall in western Afghanistan, United Nations agencies will join forces tomorrow, Tuesday, to update the media in western Afghanistan on the assistance being provided and also to appeal for an end to attacks against aid workers and humanitarian convoys delivering food, medicine and warm clothing to Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities.
For media representatives who would like to attend this press conference and visit to a camp in Herat tomorrow, please get in touch with our colleague, Nazifullah Salarzai, whose contact details we can provide you with after this briefing.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: A new report released by Human Rights Watch indicates that Afghanistan produces 95 percent of the world’s opium. What do you think, why have counter-narcotics efforts failed, despite the fact that the international community has spent a large amount of money and that the government is working on this issue?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: You raise an interesting point. Both the Afghan government and the international community have been determined to put an end to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. During this week’s meeting in Tokyo, Japan, officials will raise this issue and it is the main focus of the agenda. Last year 13 provinces were declared poppy free - and that is good news. We hope that both the government and its international partners will do more to tackle this problem and help farmers find an alternative option. We hope that the different groups step up their efforts to make this fight a truly effective one.
BBC RADIO [translated from Dari]: Does the UN have any specific statistics regarding the number of people affected by the recent heavy snowfalls in Afghanistan and how many people have been helped by UN assistance?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Yes - you already have the figures that were issued two weeks ago and there will be updated statistics that we hope to release tomorrow on this issue. As soon as we receive them, we will update you.
TAMADUN TV [translated from Dari]: You pointed to the alliance between insurgents and state officials as a reason behind the increase in poppy cultivation. Could you please clarify who these people are?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: There is some evidence that there are close relationships between those involved in the drugs trade and anti-government elements. It can often be in their [drugs traders and anti-government elements] interests to try to foster corruption amongst government officials. At the same time, in places where we have more security and rule of law - there are fewer problems. For example, in northern and central parts of Afghanistan, we have seen a reduction in poppy cultivation. This is, in part, due to better rule of law and governance in these parts of Afghanistan. As a result, 13 provinces have been declared poppy free - and that is good news. We need to continue to strengthen the rule of law and governance across the country, in order to continue this trend. It is not helpful to get into naming of individuals – we all need to focus on the broader issues I have just outlined.
AINA TV [translated from Dari]: On the relationships you mentioned earlier, are these relationships between government officials, insurgents and drug traffickers, or local people, insurgents and drug traffickers?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: There is nothing further I can really add to the answer I have just given. There are a multitude of different relationships at play in the drugs trade – it is complex. The JCMB meeting in Tokyo will be looking at how we can all move forward together on this issue.
RAH-E-NEJAT [translated from Dari]: After the withdrawal of Paddy Ashdown [from the post of Special Representative] and the President’s support for an alternative - General McColl, is the UN supportive of McColl?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: The announcement of the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General will be made in New York, not Kabul. As soon as there is a decision we will convey this immediately to you all. It is likely to take a little while for a decision to be reached and we should not get into speculation on this – this is unhelpful for all those involved in this process. We have senior UN representatives across all of the agencies, including UNAMA, working here in Afghanistan – and that must be our focus at this time – getting on with our work to help build a better future for the people of Afghanistan.
PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: We have heard a few weeks ago from ISAF sources that they have predicted an increase in the cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan. What does the UN know about this?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: We hope that the number of provinces declared poppy-free can be doubled this year, but let us not speculate. We will release appropriate and correct figures when we receive them. UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] will be releasing their latest estimates on this year’s poppy crop this week, on 6 February at the JCMB in Tokyo.
IRNA [translated from Dari]: Over the past years, the Afghan government has been unable to put an end to poppy cultivation. What is the reason for the government’s failure to introduce a new alternative for farmers? Why have their efforts failed?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: It is a complex issue, but there is no doubt that most people want an end to the drugs trade in Afghanistan. Different parties have been involved in introducing alternative crops for farmers currently growing poppy. One of the UN agencies involved in introducing alternative crops, and in agricultural development in general, is FAO [Food and Agricultural Organisation]. They have introduced 20 new seed varieties and have provided farmers with those seeds as an alternative. At the same time, we have faced the problem of mines in Afghanistan affecting agricultural land; we had to de-mine large areas [almost 1 billion square metres] in Afghanistan. Irrigation is also another problem which affects alternative crops. But we should be optimistic, rather than pessimistic.