Press conference with UNAMA's Senior UN Spokesman, Adrian Edwards

24 Mar 2009

Press conference with UNAMA's Senior UN Spokesman, Adrian Edwards

KABUL - Press conference by Adrian Edwards, Senior UN Spokesman, UNAMA, Nazifullah Salarzai, Press Officer, UNAMA.

Dari - Pashto

UN Special Representative Kai Eide is in Washington DC this week ahead of the upcoming international meeting on Afghanistan at The Hague.

Yesterday SRSG Eide met Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, National Security Adviser James Jones, Senator Carl Levin of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Secretary of State Clinton and National Security Adviser Jones both expressed their full support for SRSG Eide and for UNAMA. They discussed the US strategy review and preparations for the Hague Conference on 31 March. Further meetings are expected today, including with the Secretary of Defence and the Vice-President.

SRSG Eide’s meetings in Washington yesterday were on the same day that the UN Security Council renewed UNAMA’s mandate for Afghanistan for a further year. The new mandate emphasizes the role of Special Representative Eide and UNAMA in leading international civilian efforts and calls for all efforts to be made to ensure the credibility, safety and security of the upcoming elections.

Copies of the new mandate are on the side table, but to highlight a few points the Security Council supported UNAMA’s role in promoting more coherent international support and aid effectiveness, in supporting political outreach and the Government’s National Development Strategy and Drugs Control Strategy, in working to improve governance and rule of law, in combating corruption, and in supporting reconciliation. Central to all these efforts is the principle of Afghan ownership.

Access to quality water in Afghanistan is to be addressed at a conference at the United Nations Development Centre for Policy and Human Development at Kabul University.

Representatives from the Government and academics will discuss the value of water in Afghanistan and look at ways to promote its sustainable use.

Also critical to the conference are issues surrounding how climate change impacts on the availability of water and the traditional use of water in Afghanistan.

This is all building up to Afghanistan’s first ever National Human Development Report on water which is now being researched.

You’ll recall that UNDP’s Centre for Policy and Human Development has published major reports in the past on human security in Afghanistan and the rule of law and access to justice.

Journalists are welcome at the centre at Kabul University this Wednesday, 25 March, 2:30 – 4:30pm.

In the context of this past Sunday’s World Water Day its worth us all being in mind the importance of water and how we can all conserve it.

This year UNICEF is aiming to select a village in each province of Afghanistan to showcase how a community can help ensure everyone adopts clean sanitation and hygiene practices.

UNICEF reports that it has contributed to a five per cent increase in access to water since 2006, by constructing water pumps in local communities with each pump providing water for some 50 families.

In Afghanistan only 18 per cent of the rural population has access to protected water sources such as boreholes, hand-pumps or water pipe systems.

Only one in 10 families has and uses sanitary toilets with unsanitary toilets being a major cause of diarrhoea among children who are less than five years old.

UNICEF aims to promote improved water and better sanitation and hygiene at schools.

Twenty-one development projects to help reduce poppy cultivation in five districts of Badghis province started at the beginning of this week.

A budget of US$ 850,000 has been allocated for the implementation of these projects.

These projects include sub-roads and Karez (water irrigation) rehabilitation, and will be implemented under the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund as one of the first steps to support the local community for rapid implementation of labour-intensive projects.

The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation implements these projects with the support of UNDP’s National Area Based Development Programme.

UNAMA has launched a new website today For the latest information on the UN in Afghanistan and to receive all the news, press releases, press statements and our UN publications in Afghanistan, please register on the Subscribe section on our homepage. Please collect a sheet on our new website from the side table.

A joint effort is underway to help the drug users at the former Russian Cultural Centre in Kabul.

The Ministries of Public Health and Counter Narcotics with UN agencies including UNODC and NGOs are distributing food and syringes, providing health services, detoxification and reintegration assistance.

The Russian Embassy in Kabul is supporting the UN in this joint response to the emergency situation.

As many of you know the cultural centre is home to some 600 drug addicts and a further 600 to 800 visiting during the day.

Conditions are unhygienic and two to four people were dying a day before this intervention.

As many of you know the Special Representative of the UN, Kai Eide, has often spoken of the need to promote agriculture in Afghanistan.

UNAMA is placing a key emphasis on this and urging all UN agencies and donors to prioritise agriculture.

Here’s one example for you.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has been helping poorer farmers in Baghlan.

In the last two months a three year, US$ 2 million project has started in the Pul-e-Khumri and Baghlani Markazi districts.

6,600 various improved and grafted fruit trees such as almond, apricot, peach and plum and four types of 500 saplings of American plain trees (non-fruit) have been distributed in 102 gardens through 22 agricultural cooperatives in Baghlan province covering 110 acres of farming land.

In the next three years this project will see farmers connect to markets, FAO will help them sell their products and production and quality will increase.


TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: The United Nations Security Council last night extended the UNAMA mandate for a further year. What are the differences compared to previous mandates and how do you assess the role of UNAMA in the past year in regards to reconciliation, counter narcotics and corruption?

UNAMA (Adrian Edwards): The headline change in the mandate relates to the stress placed on the elections this year. UNAMA is committed to working with all its efforts towards the goal of an election that is fair, credible and transparent and we want others to work towards that goal as well.

As you know the main political challenge at the moment relates to the period after May 22 when according to the constitution the presidential term ends. In his statement last week to the Security Council SRSG Eide made clear the importance of Afghanistan’s politicians reaching a political consensus which ensures the continued legitimacy and strength of Afghanistan’s institutions. Elections are of course only one element of the mandate and I encourage you to read it in full.

On the second part of your question about what UNAMA has achieved over the last year. We see important progress in quite a few areas. Once again I refer you to the SRSG’s statement to the Security Council which also addresses this question. In brief we have seen improvements in the competency of both central and provincial governance with improved internal cooperation between key elements. And the most obvious example of this is the security institutions. These have had results including an increased ability to interdict, to prevent terrorist actions from happening. And for the first time in years there’s a major reform of the police underway.

On the economy and jobs, we are seeing an improved capacity in the Commerce Ministry for example, to address the challenges of private sector development. We have had the establishment of a legal framework, the setting of investment promotion priorities, and license reform and trade and transit agreements with several neighbouring states.

On reconciliation, we have seen some increased momentum in that area in recent months but there is still some way to go before we reach a stage of a formal and laid out process. We see an improved prognosis for poppy cultivation. And in April we are expecting to see the launch of a national agricultural strategy which is a major next step and is vital in this country.

NOORIN TV [translated from Dari]: Last week there was a press release by the UN which showed the concern of Kai Eide with regards to the elections, if there is fraud in them the country will go towards a crisis. What is your view on that?

UNAMA (Adrian Edwards): That press release related to SRSG Eide’s Security Council address and that is the mission view. It is vitally important that there be, and as I have said, a fair, credible and a transparent elections process in this country and that the concerns of politicians on all sides are taken seriously. There has to be a credible process.

RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: With regards to the vacuum of power after 22 May you mentioned that you have some views that you are going to tell the Government. Secondly there are still problems in the south of the country so how sure are you that the election will be held in a fair and transparent manner. And thirdly about the reconciliation, you said that takes time until it is formulated. Do you think it will take place as we are going towards the elections?

UNAMA (Adrian Edwards): I may have answered that already, but essentially we all know we have a situation after 22 May that has to be overcome. We are looking to Afghan politicians themselves to develop the necessary consensus to deal with it. Clearly we don't need in addition to a difficult security situation, a difficult political situation.

On the second question, none of us know at this stage how the elections will turn out. However we are working with all our effort for the goal of elections that are fair, credible and transparent and we hope others will work as I said towards exactly that same goal. And it will take a great effort.

On reconciliation UNAMA has a role in supporting the Government in its reconciliation efforts. But at the moment I am not in a position to really update you on what progress there is. You’re better to go to the Government on that. It’s possible there may be more developments to report over the next months but I will have to come back to you on that.

WASHINGTON POST: You say a great effort will be needed for fair and credible elections this year. Several years ago this country went through relatively free elections, relatively free of violence and basically they were successful and relatively free by far. Besides from the fact of the insurgency what do you see as the major challenges for the upcoming elections? Why will it take such an enormous effort?

UNAMA (Adrian Edwards): Any elections in Afghanistan in this era involve great efforts. You, yourself were in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005 when we had the last elections and all of you remember that an enormous effort went into that. Now let’s strip the security issue out from the equation for a moment and look at the other issues. The character of these elections are entirely different from those in 2005 and 2004.The last elections were run by the Joint Electoral Management Board [JEMB], an enormous international-led body that some of you recall very well. This time round is very different. These will be Afghan led elections. The Independent Election Commission has the prominent role. The UN has a technical support role only. There is an enormous amount of work at every single level to be done between now and the polls itself and that relates to things such as procurement, getting ballot papers, getting ink, setting up polling stations, getting staff on board, covering issues like observers in this insecure environment. There’s a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of technical preparatory work to be done as well as the political work.

On the second point, there was a high degree of national consensus if you recall back then on the election date. That level of consensus is different now. We have consensus now on the date but there still has to be a consensus achieved over the issue of what to do after the mid-May.

I would just add that the second series of elections in a conflict or post conflict environment are nearly always the more challenging elections. In fact I can think of no other country where the second round of elections has not indeed been more challenging than the first. .

BBC PERSIAN TV: The Guardian has written an article which is talking of creating the post of prime minister in Afghanistan backed by the US and its allies for President Hamid Karzai. I want to know what the United Nations thinks of creating such a post in Afghanistan and will it solve the problems we have in our country?

UNAMA (Adrian Edwards): First of all I am not aware of any serious initiative in that regard. Secondly if anyone is talking about creating a post of prime minister it should be the Afghan people. It’s their country. It’s their constitution.