Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

25 May 2009

Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Aleem Siddique, Spokesperson, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit and Dr Nazifullah Salarzai, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.

Dari - Pashto

Assessment and assistance is continuing by both national and international organizations in the flood-affected areas of the north eastern region.

In Baghlan a total number of 319 flood-affected vulnerable families have been identified in the Pul-i-Khumri, Dushi, Nahrin and Jelga districts of Baghlan province and the assessment is ongoing in other districts.

In terms of assistance, 400 families received food and non-food items in Jelga district. 200 flood-affected families were supported with cash (10,000 Afs per family) in Khinjan district. 51 families, who completely lost their houses in Jelga, were assisted with packages including tents, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic mats and 400 jerry cans. And finally 2,010,000 Afs have been allocated for around 351 families who completely or partially lost their houses.

In Takhar a total number of 1,354 families were identified with houses which were completely destroyed, 1,828 families partially lost their houses, 26 people died, 146 irrigation channels have been damaged (almost 80 per cent of irrigation infrastructures have been affected), 17,995 jeribs (one jerib is 2,000 square metres) of agricultural land destroyed, 54 culverts damaged, and around 2,969 cattle were killed.

In terms of assistance, 20-25 per cent of the flood-affected irrigation infrastructures have been rehabilitated in Takhar province in the last two weeks. Three million AFs (US$ 60,000) have been allocated to assist affected families and areas. More than 300 flood-affected families were supported in the Cha Ab, Ishkamish, Yangi Qala districts and Taluqan, the centre of Takhar province. 450 gabion boxes were provided and the canal was cleaned in Taluqan. Pulses were distributed for flood-affected farmers in the Kalafgan district of Takhar.

In Badakhshan in the Jurm district 80 houses have been completely destroyed. The closure of roads to this district has made it impossible to assist affected families from the provincial capital, Faizabad. 15 tents, 150 blankets, 50 plastic sheets and two metric tons of flour will reach the affected area today.

In the Khanaga village of Faizabad 21 houses were completely destroyed.

WFP has prepared emergency food packages, the Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development has committed 21 tents, 50 blankets and 21 family kits for these affected families. This assistance will reach the area by today.

A WFP bulldozer has already started to clean the road between Baharak and Faizabad and an excavator has reached the area today.

But almost 16 districts are still disconnected to Faizabad, the province capital.

In Kunduz a total number of 632 families in 123 villages have been affected, 29,121 jeribs of agricultural land damaged, 60 jeribs of horticultural land destroyed, and 8,804 cattle have been killed in Ali Abad, Khan Abad, the surrounding villages of Kunduz and the Imam Sahib districts of Kunduz province. Reportedly roads have been obstructed in four locations as well.

On aid assistance four million Afs (US$ 80,000) have been allocated to be spent on the rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures, the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society contributed 150 assistance packages, UNICEF 300 packages, and UNHCR 100 packages to assist vulnerable families. These included non food items and tents.

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has begun a three year road building project to improve approximately 2,000 km of secondary and tertiary roads nationwide.

The US$ 112 million project funded by the World Bank will be vital in reducing transportation costs and travel time. It will create job opportunities for Afghans, encourage trade and ultimately enhance national security.

Since 2002 the National Rural Access Programme, implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the Ministry of Public Works with support from UNOPS has constructed or rehabilitated a total of 9,419 km of roads, connecting rural areas in all 34 provinces to enhance year-round access to basic services and facilities for rural communities in Afghanistan.

The programme has generated 12.4 million labour days and created critical livelihoods for Afghan people in need.

The NRAP has also constructed or rehabilitated 66 bridges, 14 airfields and 73,097 metres of relevant road structures, such as culverts and protection walls.

As part of its employment creation efforts, the programme has also built essential community infrastructures, including irrigation schemes, water and sanitation facilities, and schools and clinics, using labour-based approaches.

For more information, please collect a press release from the side table.

UNHCR is expected to assist 150,000 Afghans in 2009 by providing information and legal services through a network of Information and Legal Assistance Centres and to support the capacity building of at least 200 key professionals involved in the formal and informal justice systems existing in Afghanistan. Depending on the number of returning Afghans, this year (2009), through the legal aid centres, some 5,000 information cases will be registered and processed including with the cross border component.

Since March 2003 until the end of 2008, a total of 4,066 legal cases were assisted, together with referrals of protection and assistance concerns to NGOs, UN agencies and Government institutions across the country. Land and property disputes are some of the greatest barriers to the return of displaced Afghans, with NRC working on between 600 and 800 land cases every year.

The estimated number of beneficiaries from the legal assistance in 2009 will be some 4,800 individuals.

For further information, please collect a press release in Dari and English from the side table.

Sixty thousand students have benefited from safe drinking water with the help of the United Nations Office for Project Services.

Providing safe water is not only central to the rehabilitation and construction of schools but it has also played a key role in pushing up attendance rates by ensuring healthy children who are also more active participants.

The Kabul Schools Programme supported by UNOPS has now ensured safe drinking water for more than 60,000 school children across Kabul, and teachers are confirming that attendance rates have gone up dramatically.

Seven schools in Kabul have benefited from new facilities such as electric pumps, deep wells able to extract drinking water safe from shallow industrial pollution or infiltration of bacterium and storage tanks where the water is treated against any form of contamination.

Laboratory tests have confirmed that the water quality meets World Health Organization standards for safe drinking and other daily uses.

UNDP announces the completion of its Reintegration Support Project for Ex-combatants (RSPE) today. This two-year project registered some 17,057 jobseekers (80 per cent male and 20 per cent female) including 4,471 ex-combatants in 10 Employment Services Centres (ESCs) mainly in the regional capitals of the country.

Out of this number some 3,737 male and 1,368 female were provided with job opportunities. In addition 6,853 project beneficiaries received different types of skills development training, which includes the technical and vocational training of the ex-combatants and their family members to become qualified jobseekers.

Besides providing employment and reintegration services to the interested jobseekers and ex-combatants and their families, a total number of 2,040 interested jobseekers benefited from the Job Application Training and 498 attended the Basic English Language Training out of which 6.82 per cent were female jobseekers.

Such trainings provided an opportunity for the trainees to enter into the labour market.

For further information on this please collect a press release from the side table.


NOOR TV [translated from Dari]: Recently rumours are saying that some of the assistance given to flood-affected areas is not distributed fairly, mainly because it is distributed through governors and district chiefs. What is your opinion on this issue?

ALEEM SIDDIQUE, UNAMA: This is an important and key issue and it is imperative that assistance available is distributed equally and in an equitable way according to the needs of the people affected most by natural disasters such as the flooding that we’ve seen recently.

Wherever possible the United Nations agencies prefer to deliver aid directly to the recipients; those who need the aid the most. Often there is a requirement to deliver this assistance through local NGOs and organizations and through the local authorities. Every effort is made by UN agencies to ensure that those who need the aid receive the aid. If there are reports of inequitable distribution then these cases need to be brought to our attention and we would encourage the media to bring forward any such examples, if inequitable distribution may have occurred, so we can follow up with local authorities and our partners.

IRNA [translated from Farsi]: There have been reports in a Kabul weekly newspaper that some western countries bury their nuclear waste in the deserts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces which causes pollution in the water going to neighbouring countries especially Iran. Do you have any information on that?

ALEEM SIDDIQUE, UNAMA: I’m afraid I don’t have any information on that. May I suggest you contact Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps they have more on that particular issue. We do not have Information on that.

RTA [translated from Pashto]: There are reports that around 300 Afghan families from Landi Kotal and the Khyber Agency have been given a deadline to leave the tribal areas. What is UNHCR’s stand on this?

NADER FARHAD, UNHCR [translated from Dari]: Afghans were never registered in the tribal areas particularly in Landi Kotal and the Khyber Agency. Registrations took place in early 2006 and 2007; none of them were registered there. So we assume that there are no officially registered Afghans living in the tribal areas particularly in the FATA areas. And we believe that registered Afghans, who we are responsible for, in terms of providing protection, are not living there. Our demand is very clear: We want the Government of Pakistan, in case there are any registered Afghans that they should be given the options of either voluntary repatriation or relocation within Pakistan and that is what the Government of Pakistan has agreed to before.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: I wanted to know the reasons why these people have never been registered? Was it because they did not want to be registered or they were not considered to be registered?

NADER FARHAD, UNHCR [translated from Dari]: If you can recall during 2005 all the refugee camps in the frontier areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan were closed due to insecurity. Around 32 camps were closed in 2005. All Afghans living in those areas were given the option either to return to Afghanistan or relocate inside Pakistan.

Also the registration process of Afghan refugees inside Pakistan started in early 2006 and 2007, while these camps were closed in 2005. That was why no registration took place in these tribal areas. Maybe there are some Afghans who have come to live in Landi Kotal and the Khyber Agency after the registration. I want to reiterate that if they are holding registration cards and they are living in the Landi Kotal area, then our position is clear on that: We want the Government of Pakistan to allow those who are holding registration cards to be given the option to either return voluntarily or relocate inside Pakistan. We believe if even some Afghans are there, most of them do not have registration cards, and the Government of Afghanistan is in contact with the Government of Pakistan in regards to this issue.

RFE/RL [translated from Pashto]: Afghan refugees living in the tribal areas on the other side of the border have been affected with the current deteriorating security situation. Has this had any impact on the return process of the Afghan refugees from these areas?

NADER FARHAD, UNHCR [translated from Dari]: The security situation in some parts of the NWFP such as Sawabi, Swat and Banir has had some negative impacts not only on Afghan refugees but also on the local people in that area. More than 1.7 million Pakistanis have been displaced from their own regions, mainly the tribal regions. This has also had a negative impact on Afghan refugees who used to live in those three areas. 114,000 Afghan refuges were living there and had to relocate to other parts of Pakistan like Peshawar or live with their relatives and friends. This has not had serious impacts on the returning process. This year only 20,000 Afghan refugees have voluntarily returned to their country which is smaller than the same period last year. But it does not mean that the number will not go up, no one can predict the situation in conflict. But we are ready to address the situation if a mass return takes place. We have not witnessed something like that so far.

FARDA TV [translated from Dari]: Do you have any update on the provision of humanitarian assistance to the central parts of the country? We have been hearing that Bamyan and Daikundi are cut off.

NAZIFULLAH SALARZAI, UNAMA [translated from Dari]: We do not have specific information on these areas. As we get information on them we will let you know.

ROZ NEWS AGENCY [translated from Dari]: I have a question about the quality of these new roads because roads reconstructed in the past where in a bad condition after some time. Can you tell us about the quality of the work on these roads?

ALEEM SIDDIQUE, UNAMA: I wish I could answer it, but I am not an expert in road building. But if you speak to us afterwards allow me to assure you we will put you in touch with someone who is working on that programme and has much better knowledge on how to build roads and the maintenance of roads than I do.

NAZIFULLAH SALARZAI, UNAMA [translated from Dari]: I just want to elaborate on the positive impacts of building roads. Nearly 10,000 km of roads constructed or rehabilitated countrywide connects rural areas to the rest of the country, reducing the transportation cost, travel time and promoting trade.