Press conference with UNAMA and UNMACA

21 Jul 2008

Press conference with UNAMA and UNMACA

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Dr. Haider Reza, Programme Director of the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan and Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good morning to everyone. My name is Nilab Mobarez. Today we are joined by Dr. Haider Reza, Programme Director of the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA) who will be briefing us on their mine action activities over the last six months in Afghanistan. But, before that, I would like to make a few short announcements.

The rehabilitation of the Lashkri canal in Nimroz will benefit over 100,000 farmers and over 15,000 hectares of land will be irrigated by the canal.

The work is being carried out with the support of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). This new water supply will increase irrigated land from 1,800 hectares to 20,000 hectares in the province.

The work will be completed by early next year. The canal will also benefit over 18,000 households in the four main villages of Khabgha, Baynaz, Sardasht, Mahajerabad and Nadali.

These villages are dependent on agriculture production, mainly wheat, barley, mung bean, vegetable, cotton and watermelon.

Surface water is currently the only source available for irrigation which is also used for drinking and other domestic purposes.

Since January this year, the World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed 33,000 tonnes of food to 1.46 million people in urban and rural areas of Afghanistan.

Around one million people are now engaged in “food for work” activities in nearly all provinces across the country.

In addition to 88,000 tonnes from the January appeal to assist 2.5 million Afghans affected by high food prices, mainly with wheat and wheat flour - WFP will be providing 179,000 tonnes of food assistance to 3.7 million vulnerable Afghans throughout the country in 2008 and 2009.

Under the joint appeal for $404 million made by the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations two week’s ago, WFP plans to procure nearly 230,000 tonnes of food.

Between January and June 2008, WFP provided 103,000 tonnes of food to 5.3 million Afghans to enhance food security, especially for those in food-insecure and remote areas.

WFP also responded with the provision of emergency food assistance to 66,000 people affected by harsh winter in various parts of the country. A total of 58,000 internally displaced people, including battle displaced persons received WFP food assistance, mainly in the south of the country.

Food was also provided to 27,000 vulnerable returnees and deportees in the first half of 2008.

A new human–trafficking law has been enacted - a major step towards the rigorous prosecution of crime and greater justice for all.

This follows successful work between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The Law on Combating Kidnapping and Human Trafficking came into force on 14 July after the signing of Presidential Decree Number 52.

IOM is currently implementing a counter trafficking capacity building programme for Afghan law enforcement agencies.

The programme has included assistance to the Legislation department in the Ministry of Justice in drafting Afghanistan’s first counter-trafficking law.

IOM now plans to work with the Government of Afghanistan and other partners to disseminate information about the new law and create a momentum among stakeholders to expand counter-trafficking initiatives.

For more information please collect a press release on the side table in Dari and English.

UNMACA: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to this gathering and especially I would like to thank my colleagues at UNAMA for giving me this opportunity to sit across from our colleagues here to express some of our very, very good successes that we have had during the past six months of this year.

It goes without saying that unfortunately because of thirty years of war and chaos, Afghanistan has the maximum number of mines and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO). It is still unfortunate that every month Afghans are paying the price by falling victim to these mines and UXOs. Now I am very happy to announce that in partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, specifically with the Department of Mine Clearance (DMC), we collected and destroyed 38,297 anti-personnel mines and 419 anti-tank mines and in addition, and to be exact, 957,362 unexploded ordinance, which of course includes anything from a bullet to maybe some kind of mortar, canon or shells that have not exploded - so they have all been collected and destroyed.

Now if we compare the number - 38,292 anti-personnel mines to 389,000 anti-personnel mines which were destroyed during the past 18 years - while I still admire the good work that has been carried out during these 18 years, but nevertheless, the output of the past six months in comparison with the previous 18 years is a huge success.

And the credit goes to our very beloved de-miners; the true sons of this country that they are desperately trying to see how they can help their people and their country.

Besides de-mining activities, as far as other activities such as mine risk education is concerned, another figure - 760,434 men, women and children of this country had the opportunity to learn about the risks of mines and other UXOs.

The other good news that I am extremely happy to also announce is the fact that in the month of June, for the first time, we had a record figure of only 24 victims that fell victim to mines and UXOs. I pray this will continue and even diminish further down.

This is something that while I cannot guarantee that it will not again change, God forbid, in the other direction, but we are desperately trying to see if we can lower this even further down to ensure fewer people are injured by mines.

Now, one another point that I would like to say and then maybe we can stop for your questions, is the fact that we at UNMACA, in partnership with the Department of Mine Clearance of the Government of Afghanistan are working together now, planning together and we are actually executing all operations together. In a symposium in December last year and then during an inter-ministerial body in January this year, it was the Department of Mine Clearance (DMC), within the framework of the Afghan National Disaster Preparedness Authority that was selected as the government body to look after mine action together with the United Nations Mine Action Centre.

Since the beginning of May this year, colleagues from DMC have moved into our office, so they are regularly involved in planning and carrying out other activities to de-mine this country.

This is something that we as partners are trying to see how we can maximize our outputs. I will stop there. Maybe there will be certain questions that I can elaborate on about the partnership between UNMACA and the DMC.


BBC [translated from Dari]: Are there are any figures you can provide on the percentage of the land in Afghanistan that is still contaminated with landmines and also on the new mines laid by anti-government elements - how challenging is this new development for you?

UNMACA [translated from Dari]: According to our figures - two thirds of the country and therefore two thirds of the problems associated with mines in this country and UXOs have been cleared; so only one third is left. According to our figures, around 2,268 communities within Afghanistan still have mines and UXOs within them. Now in these communities, we’re talking about roughly four million Afghans living there.

The second part of the question was about new mines being laid. We do not have any figures or facts that will lead us to believe that new mines are laid within the country. But, indirectly we get from time to time reports of casualties - people falling victim to mines and UXOs in places where previously it was not the case. So indirectly one could draw the conclusion that maybe new mines are being laid. But nevertheless, Afghanistan joined the Ottawa Convention at the end of 2002 and it became a full member on 1 March 2003. Based on the Ottawa Convention, the use, production, sale, storage and everything related to anti-personnel mines is banned in the country.

SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: My question is regarding the distribution of food and mainly the “food for work” projects. According to a recent report there are 40,000 people in Ghor province facing food insecurity. What’s the plan of WFP and food assistance for these people?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: As I told you earlier, WFP has been broadly involved in food distribution throughout the country through various programmes namely food for work. Food assistance has been provided for those who have been affected by the high prices of food and food for education and other programmes.

As you know, the first appeal for the people who needed food assistance, which was launched by the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations in the winter, was fully funded by the international community and the remaining assistance under this appeal will be completed by the end of August this year. As I earlier said this process of food assistance is going on by WFP.

The second appeal which was a $404 million appeal was launched by the Government of Afghanistan and the UN two weeks ago and this appeal will run for one year. Under this appeal, millions of people who were at risk of food insecurity will be covered. Concerning Ghor province - there are a number of provinces which need food assistance. The assessments have been done and those provinces in need of food will hopefully be covered and receive the food assistance they need.

RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: You mentioned 2,268 communities still being contaminated with landmines. Do you have any specific programmes to clear those areas?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Yes of course. Afghanistan has two commitments: one international commitment and one within the Afghanistan Compact where the 70 percent of the country impacted by mines and UXOs has to be cleared by the beginning of March of 2011. Based on the Ottawa Convention - on 1 March 2013 - all of Afghanistan should be cleared of landmines and UXOs. Now considering this as a benchmark and as a responsibility on the one hand and on the other, the need for de-mining the country, of course we have plans and programmes to clear Afghanistan as soon and as quickly as possible to save our people.

Now, I would have preferred if the question had been raised: why has there been so much success over the past six months? And I would have said that we have brought new approaches to de-mining Afghanistan. And I would like to take the opportunity to thank my colleagues, the 18 years of experience of my Afghan brothers that have done a marvellous job on the ground. Not to forget our international colleagues – who have provided the technical know-how, the experts that are working with us on how to make the programmes effective: effective in the sense of how soon we can clear Afghanistan and also be effective from a cost perspective.

BBC WORLD SERVICE TV [translated from Dari]: Thanks for the good news about mine clearance, but unfortunately we have been hearing in the past two months, even yesterday, about civilians being killed in different provinces of Afghanistan, more than 200 civilians in different parts of the country lost their lives. Do you know about these casualties, are you concerned, is it within your mandate or not?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: The safety and welfare of civilians must come first - without exception. The United Nations has always been clear that all parties to the conflict must respect Afghan and international laws and protect the lives of all those not involved in this conflict.

We continue to urge that every effort is made by international military forces to ensure that they take care to protect the lives of innocent Afghans in this country.

The reports we have seen relating to civilians who have been killed over the past few days and weeks indicate that there has been a huge loss of innocent life. We say very clearly – we do not want to see this continue.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: I would like to know what are the factors that led to your success this year compared to previous years? You also talked about the decrease in the number of casualties because of mines. Where have mines been laid by anti-government elements that inflict injuries on civilians? What’s your view on that?

UNMACA [translated from Dari]: One thing as an Afghan that I have to say to begin with: I have a mandate, I have a responsibility and I can speak on behalf of all my colleagues, the 8,500 de-miners, and the wider de-mining family. We take pride in knowing that we have done something useful at the end of the day that has helped the people and the country, Afghanistan. With that kind of a mentality, and with that responsibility, we are ready to knock on any door to see how we can get the job done more effectively and quickly.

As far as the mines that we hear about in the media from time to time, I would like to make it clear and distinguish between a mine and the IED (improvised explosive device). I am afraid that nowadays, when you hear in the media about mines - that they are not actually mines, they are IEDs.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: In territory under control of the Taliban does mine clearing go on, and secondly, given the insecurity in the south surely the benchmark target of 2013 will not be hit?

UNMACA [translated from Dari]: Good question. Security is a challenge nowadays and is an issue faced by many parts of the country. Just in the past eight months we have lost three de-miners in Kandahar; two in Zabul; and just a few months ago six people in the border between Balkh and Jawzjan; and two in Kunduz. These are de-miners – the true sons of this country, that they were killed in cold blood for no good reason. These are the people who had in mind on the one hand to serve the country and two to earn bread for their families. But unfortunately they were killed. I have not mentioned a few that were also wounded as a result of these attacks.

So security has become an obstacle in parts of the country. As a consequence we had to withdraw some of the teams from parts of, for example, Kandahar and some other areas. But we have not totally abandoned these areas. What we are trying to do, as a matter of fact from 2008 onwards, is to involve the community. Community based de-mining, where the youth from the community will be trained up for three months and then they will be back in their communities to carry on de-mining. And we are hoping that with understanding from elders in the community we will be able to mobilise communities to take a much more proactive role in safeguarding the de-mining teams and their assets.

On the second part of your question, whether Afghanistan will be able to meet its obligations under the Ottawa Convention? God forbid if the security situation deteriorates where it does not allow de-mining teams to carry out their task - it will be difficult to meet that deadline and that benchmark.

ROZ [translated from Dari]: Could you please tell the number of civilian loses as a result of de-mining?

UNMACA [translated from Dari]: 371 cases.

RTA [translated from Dari]: As you are aware, a large number of people in Baghlan have left their homes as a result of drought and famine. Do you have any plans to help them? My second question is on food distribution. Do you do this independently or in collaboration with the Government?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: I would like to answer your second question first. Yes, all the UN agencies in Afghanistan work closely with the Government of Afghanistan. As you are aware, there are emergency response committees in all provinces and UNAMA and other UN agencies are members of those committees. So there is a good coordination between the Government and UN agencies which results in effective work.

On the Baghlan displaced people, we have no information on this at this stage. What I can say, is that a humanitarian assessment has been done across the whole country. Those involved in this are fully aware of who needs how much food and where.