Press conference with Special Representative of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide

19 Aug 2008

Press conference with Special Representative of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Susana Rico, Country Representative, World Food Programme.

Dari - Pashto

SRSG: I am here in support of Susana Rico and the World Food Programme. I would like to say a few words of introduction from my point of view. Let me first remind you of the appeal that went out last month for $404 million to help Afghanistan overcome the impact high food prices, the drought and the reduced harvest. We are of course working with the donors in order to ensure that funds are committed to this appeal. I would also like to use this opportunity to appeal via you to donors to commit resources as soon as possible. And here I must say it’s not only a question of the need for the amount to come in, but it is a need for the amount of money we need to come in soon. We can reduce the impact of the problems we are facing if donors react quickly. And the sooner donors react the more suffering we will be able to prevent; as you know winter is only a few months away and we need to act quickly, all of us. We can all see that the humanitarian situation is becoming more challenging and more difficult and our estimate is that 35 percent of Afghan households do not meet their minimum daily requirement for food. And the amount of money that families have to spend on food has risen from 56 percent in 2005 to 85 percent now. All these are of course rough estimates but it indicates the trend that we are facing.

We will from UNAMA’s point of view make every effort to increase the capacity we have to meet humanitarian needs. And I hope we will be able to increase the personnel that we have available to forecast and assess and coordinate humanitarian assistance. But let me add one thing here. When we see that food convoys are attacked and food is stolen it is not first of all stolen from the food convoys it is stealing from those who need food most. It means stealing from the poorest. And when food convoys are being attacked by armed groups it is an attack on the food convoy but it is even more an attack on the poorest of this country. And I cannot see how, from any perspective, this can be justified. So I therefore appeal to those who carry out such attacks to stop stealing from the poorest and stop attacking the poorest.

We have also been working and adopting a set of civil-military guidelines over the last few weeks. And these have been produced with the involvement of all those who should be involved in that kind of process. And it has been done with one objective: to make it clear that we have very different and very separate roles. To ensure that there is respect and understanding for the fact that humanitarian organizations carry out humanitarian work and purely humanitarian work. And I am pleased to see that so many in the military, government authorities and NGOs have subscribed to this.

Let me finally say that some of you remember that over at the Kabul Polytechnic University the other day we launched the countdown to our Peace Day on 21 September. There are now 33 days left. And we appeal to you again to communicate to everybody across Afghanistan to help us during that process and respect the Peace Day of 21 September. We already have many partners on board in this process and let me here mention the Afghan Civil Society Network for Peace which is a network of over 100 NGOs and we do hope for a strong mobilization of all those who seek peace to join us in this process. Thank you.

WFP: I don’t think that I can be more eloquent than the Special Representative of the Secretary General to put to you the needs of many, many Afghans or the impact that security events have on the lives of those people who need the assistance that we deliver. The World Food Programme has been in Afghanistan for several decades and we have seen through those years good times and not so good times; we are now going through one of those difficult moments in the lives of Afghans. Not only have the Afghans not been able to benefit for three decades of development but also facing recurrent drought and the impact of global high food prices. As many as five million people who only a year ago were able to provide for themselves may now require assistance; men and women in rural and urban areas who can no longer afford the food they for themselves and their families.

Many rural communities who depend on rain and did not see it come this year will be at risk because of the drought. Hundreds of thousands of children under five years of age and their mothers may not be able to meet their nutritional needs robbing them of future development opportunities. The Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations have launched an appeal to address those needs. And not only the World Food Programme will be called upon to assist five million people but more importantly the appeal seeks to provide resources for better and cleaner water sources. The appeal will also seek to address immediate urgent needs for agriculture inputs: let’s not just think what we need today but what we can build for tomorrow.

WFP appeals to donors for 100,000 metric tons of food which will be needed in the next six months to address the most urgent needs of Afghanistan. And we appeal to the broader community to help us provide the secure environment that we need to provide the assistance that is required.


ASSOCIATED PRESS: Can you in your words say how you would describe the current state of war in Afghanistan and how you as the United Nations can help in reducing the level of hostilities. And second when you say that last week you managed to get a civil-military agreement does this mean that you have asked the military to stop providing humanitarian aid out of the PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] or was the military not involved in your agreement?

SRSG: With regard to the security situation that you raised. There’s no doubt that the security situation is not only challenging but becoming more challenging. If you look at the figures for May, June and July there’s a rising number of security incidents. There’s no doubt that this is very serious and of grave concern to us. What we are focusing on is what we believe should be certain priorities at this stage. And some of them as you know were outlined at the Paris Conference in June. I think we should today really concentrate mainly on the humanitarian issues but let me say that I believe that there is a need and an urgent need to move away from the pessimistic mood to a more optimistic mood. And I think that means we follow a clearer agenda than we’ve done so far. I believe that agenda to a large extent is reflected in the Paris document. And I believe if we all - the Afghan Government and the international community - really push on behind that strategy then it will lead to a more optimistic mood. Let me just remind you of some of the priorities there: we are committed to spend our aid more effectively. There’s an urgent need to do that because it will make the Afghan people see more results and better results of the resources that are being spent in this country. There’s a greater need to build solid competent institutions to fight corruption because the people will see that these institutions can deliver and be trusted and deliver services to them be it on the development side, the security side or the humanitarian side.

I think that it is important now that we set that agenda clearly now because if we don’t do it now there’s a risk that we will all continue as we have done so far. And if we continue as we have done so far I think it will not take us away from the pessimistic mood it will lead to more stagnation.

With regard to the civil-military guidelines in very general terms: it is important that all actors respect that humanitarian organizations are a humanitarian organisations. And that they are not mixed up with any other agenda other than a humanitarian agenda. This is important to me that humanitarian assistance is not used as a political tool in any circumstances. It’s important to me that humanitarian assistance is not being used to win “hearts and minds” as it’s called by any of those participants. It’s important that humanitarian aid is seen as what it is: which is an effort to reach those who are in greatest need and that all other considerations are pushed aside.

ARIANA TV [translated from Dari]: The Government of Afghanistan has raised concern in so many instances about the high prices and they have also appealed for assistance. If this assistance does not reach the Afghan Government on time don’t you think Afghanistan will face a humanitarian crisis? Second question is that WFP convoys are being attacked, it is said they are armed groups and local commanders who just do these attacks for money and the local tribes and the community they are living in.

WFP: I expect that we will have a swift and sufficient response from the donor community so that this does not become a humanitarian crisis. But for the person who is hungry it doesn’t matter whether it is a crisis of humanitarian portion it is a crisis in his or her life and in the life of their children and that is what matters. It is not a matter of what we call it in the international or national press it’s a matter of the daily reality of the life of very many Afghans, as many as five million Afghans and that is how we have to think about the issues before us.

We are pursing under the issue of security every lead to find out who is behind the attacks. The important thing however is not who perpetrates it, but as the SRSG said, the important fact is that people will not receive the food that was stolen and those people are the ones who matter to me.

IRIN: Can you tell us the response donors have made so far to the appeal that was just launched and secondly why have donors been so slow? In January when the first appeal was launched it was somehow linked to the ANDS [Afghanistan National Development Strategy] and that some donors say they have put money into the ANDS basket and don’t have extra money to provide.

SRSG: Let me first say that I do hope now for a swift response that is why we make this appeal today. Let me say also that we had in January one food appeal. We had in Paris a conference to mobilize resources behind the ANDS which raised $20 billion. And third and important in this respect: this is a not a crisis that affects Afghanistan alone, it’s a crisis which is facing a number of countries around the world. Our task is to draw attention to Afghanistan and see there is a response to this appeal as quickly as possible.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES: You are concerned about the security situation and the looting by the gunmen. Have you proposed to the Afghan Government or NATO and ISAF forces to take full security of this aid on the highways?

SRSG: Let me say it is important that we do not mix up the military and humanitarian. There should be respect for humanitarian food convoys as such and what we are trying to do is have a clear dividing line between the military and humanitarian efforts: there should be respect for hum convoys knowing what they carry. They carry humanitarian assistance and it’s important for us also inside the civil-military guidelines to draw distinction and that we do not mess up the relationship between the various actors. We are not part of a military campaign, we do humanitarian work and that distinction must be maintained and what we are doing is to make an extra effort to have everybody see that this is what it is and that the line of distinction is clear. We are not acting on behalf of the military, not on behalf of any government - we act on behalf of people who need assistance.

WFP: The World Food Programme is indeed working with the Ministry of the Interior to provide a more structured escort to commercial convoys that have transited through difficult areas that was reaction to latest series of security incidents we had particularly on the ring road but elsewhere as well. I have unfortunately since we had reached agreement with the Ministry of the Interior not had sufficient food to move and try a new protection scheme. So I appeal to donors to provide the food so we can move it now I believe in a more secure way to move it in a more secure way to those people who require assistance.

Ultimately however it is not how much police escort we may have for our convoys. The deliveries will be secured the day that we all have a common understanding of the needs that those convoys will satisfy for millions of Afghans. We need to have a common understanding and a common agreement to allow humanitarian cargo to get through whatever territory and reach the people who need the assistance.

BBC: We keep hearing about the priority of humanitarian assistance but why is there no office for the coordination of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan?

SRSG: There has been a decision to have an integrated mission. And that decision has been taken after discussion that has taken place over some time. And let me say for me the priority now is not to discuss structures but to mobilize first of all the humanitarian assistance that we need and secondly the personnel that we need in order to address the humanitarian requirements seen from the UN point of view. And I have been working rather extensively on this vis a vis some NGOs and New York [UN HQ] in order to see that we have not only a budget for our mission in 2009 but very significantly that we can try to find ad hoc solutions with the help of NGOs and with the help of specific governments that can enable us to bring this kind of personnel on board quickly. I think that I can say following discussions as late as yesterday that I’m convinced governments will provide us with the resources that we need for this kind of ad hoc arrangement. And I will continue these discussions with some governments and representatives here in a couple of hours from now in fact. Then comes the question of quick recruitment of personnel which you know is always challenging in a security environment of the kind we find ourselves in.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: If donors do not respond to this joint appeal by the United Nations and the Government of Afghanistan what will happen to these five million Afghans and secondly your food convoys are being attacked even in secure areas of the country how will you be able to deliver in the insecure areas?

WFP: Donors will and are responding. We have had already a confirmation of a contribution from the United Kingdom and there are several contributions under negotiation that I am not at liberty to discuss because they are not yet pledged and confirmed. I am confident that we will have a sufficient response. WFP has a normal programme of work in Afghanistan in support of recovery activities. We will use the food that we have for those recovery activities to respond to more urgent needs. I have as recently as last week secured a loan from the Government of Pakistan that I have pledged to repay before the end of the year and the food that we will bring from Pakistan to allow us to preposition so that people will have it before winter in the places that we cannot have access.

The point of where the attacks occur. They occur on and of just about anywhere in the country. And again the important thing is to think - what are the consequences of these attacks? We will purse the perpetrators with the full strength of the law. We will seek justice. But there is no justice for the person who was expecting the food that day and did not receive it - that is the appeal I will put to the general public to ensure those attacks are prevented so that people do receive it when they need it. For a woman, a widow who has to feed six children after having worked for a full month in a nursery or for a man who has an extended family to feed on a jerib of land, it doesn’t matter who coordinates, it doesn’t matter who is the perpetrator of an attack what matters is that they need to receive the assistance.

SRSG: In order to overcome the problems we face in the delivery of food to those who need it most and to make everybody understand what is happening this crime is against the most needy. We also need to mobilise more society as such and we would like to mobilise the media. We would like to mobilise the local communities, the shuras, the religious leaders, etc, and the communities as such to condemn this kind of action; to create an opinion which is strong and firm against these kinds if attacks.

BBC [translated from Pashto]: The figures of this appeal for $404 million: How much have you so far received or pledged and you talked about asking for 100,000 tons, is this included in the appeal?

WFP: Yes 100,000 tons includes the needs for the appeal for the first few months. Of the $404 million appeal for the next year WFP will require $185 million for food. The rest of the appeal needs to be responded to as soon as possible as well because in keeping with the more positive outlook and thinking of the prospects of building an enabling environment so Afghans do not need assistance every year. We need what it takes to develop water resources and agriculture so that part of the appeal is just as important as responding to the immediate needs of Afghans. As I said WFP already received a pledge from the United Kingdom and has a number of contributions under negotiation and we will announce to the press as they are confirmed.