UNAMA's weekly press conference

21 Jul 2009

UNAMA's weekly press conference

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by his Excellency Minister Rahimi, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Robert Watkins, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Laurent Saillard, Representative for Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) and Dr Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.  


UNAMA: Ladies and gentlemen: Good morning, I am Nilab Mobarez from the UNAMA Spokespersons Office. I am honoured to introduce three guests today.

Our guest speakers this week are: His Excellency Minister Rahimi, the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; Robert Watkins, deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan; and Laurent Saillard from ACBAR, who will all be speaking about humanitarian issues affecting Afghanistan.

They will be providing you with an update on the review of the Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP).

This action plan was designed by the United Nations, donors, and NGO community, in close coordination with the government of Afghanistan.

Now without further delay, I would like to hand over to His Excellency, Minister Rahimi.

MINISTER RAHIMI [translated from Dari]: First, I want to extend my thanks to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and also to the head of ACBAR coordination body, for the very good and complete report that they have prepared on the implementation of Humanitarian Action Plan. They have prepared the ground to review this appeal created and launched last February by United Nations and NGO’s in close coordination with the government of Afghanistan.

I am not getting into details because I am sure the Deputy Special Representative will speak about this in details. But, I have some particular points that I want to address in this press conference.

The first point is that we have three pieces of good news in this review.

The good news is that life expectancy has increased from 41 years old in 1990 to 43 years today for the Afghan population. And this is a clear indicator of a higher life level of the Afghan people.

The second piece of good news is that the GDP has increased from under $300 in 2001 to $1,000 in 2009.

And the third piece of good news is that the seed and fruit harvest this year is much better, which is a good indicator for a better life for the people. This is good news for Afghans.

We also face some challenges that have been mentioned in this report. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan has increased. And still 31 per cent of Afghans face food insecurity. And still 15,000 lose their lives from tuberculosis (TB).

Also, still two million Afghan children cannot go to the school. This report also mentions challenges before the Afghan Government and the international community, particularly for the Ministry of Agriculture, because agriculture plays a key role in the Humanitarian Action Plan.

For instance, preparedness for delivery of emergency assistance and providing food strategic stocks.
And food security needs an increase in food production. Also, people’s health is dependent directly on receiving a good diet and balanced food.

The other important point in this report is that unfortunately due to existing chronic poverty, Afghan people spend most of their incomes on buying food.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the people spend less than 10 per cent of their income on food, while Afghan people spend more than 70 per cent on food.

It is obvious that if people are spending 70 per cent on food, there will be no money to be spent on other things like health, shelter, education, and for social and entertainment activities.

But the good point is that we can see positive changes in the international mentalities regarding support to agriculture.

Some of you know that our National Agriculture Development Framework, which was presented to the international community three months ago, got wide international support.

Also, due to the support of UNAMA – especially the SRSG Kai Eide’s personal support – donors and other international community members and NGO’s are showing more coordination and more cooperation with the government of Afghanistan.

And more assistance and aid will be spent in the agriculture sector in the future.

In the end, you will see that the Humanitarian Action Plan clearly shows that economical and social sectors are very closely related to each other.

Also, it shows, there is need for more coordination among donors to implement this plan.

Finally, I want to thank UNAMA and, especially, DSRSG Watkins, and all the donors who participated to this appeal launched by the Afghan Government and the international community, for their cooperation. Thank you very much.

DSRSG WATKINS: Thank you very much. Thank you, Minister Rahimi and to all of you gathered here from the press. I think it is worthwhile to mention and remind all of us what the Humanitarian Action Plan is, as we are at the sixth month period of its implementation. I would like to remind you that it is a plan put together by United Nations agencies, with NGOs, and in consultation with the Government of Afghanistan, to provide a framework for the coordination of humanitarian activities for the most urgent needs.

And, I emphasise the word “need” because there is no political agenda, there is no geographic agenda. All of the projects in this plan are to meet the most urgent needs of the population. Furthermore, it is not just a list of projects for the needy – but it is also a prioritised framework which is intended to avoid any kind of duplication between all the humanitarian actors that are working in the country and to ensure that most needed services are reaching the people who need them the most.
So the purpose of this review is to look at what has been achieved in the last six months and to identify any outstanding gaps that may exist. I am very happy to say that the response from the donor community has been excellent. We have received almost 70 per cent of the appeal. The appeal as you will recall was $648 million. So we have received over $450 million. The response has been very good.

The World Food Programme – WFP – the United Nations agency responsible for assisting people with food, has provided food to 3.7 million people.

However, inspite of these very positive developments, there are a number of issues and these are what I would really like to emphasise with you.

First of all, as you all know, because of the security problems in the country, we are not able to access all of the people that require assistance. So the issue of accessibility is foremost on our agenda.

And, while we are very happy to have received so much money to provide food to the people, there are still other critical needs that need to be addressed. These include education, housing, sanitation and hygiene.

The third most important issue is that very little of the funds have been directed towards the non-governmental organisation sector – the NGOs. And we would really like to emphasise that it is important that the NGOs are receiving more financial assistance, because they are the organisations which are getting out into the most isolated and difficult places to reach.

So, in summary, I would like to make three points. One – as I mentioned there are still needs which are still uncovered by the donors and we are requesting them to focus on those activities in the next six months of the appeal.

Second, the fact that we are in a very heated election period – we have one month before the elections – we should not forget that there are people who are in very dire need of assistance and we need to focus attention on them as well as the election process.

And third, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to make an appeal to certain players in the country who are blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid. You all know that some humanitarian actors have come under attack – some have died – that supplies have been prevented from reaching beneficiaries in urgent need. We appeal to those parties to allow humanitarian access into those areas so that all of the population in the country can benefit from this international aid. Thank you for your attention and I will now hand over to Mr Laurent.

ACBAR, SAILLARD: Excellency, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, and members of press. My name is Laurent Saillard. I am the director of ACBAR, a coordinating body for national and international NGOs. I speak here on behalf of the civil society –the NGOs.

Thank you for being here, particularly in light of so many major events that are currently going on in Afghanistan.

I will not take too much of your time, but would like to deliver three key messages in relation with the mid-term review of the Humanitarian Action Plan.

First, yes, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is still a major issue, especially in the affected areas.
Second, no, the HAP for Afghanistan is not as well supported as one may think. NGOs have received little support as well as certain sectors such as health. Third, impartial and independent humanitarian assistance is compromised in Afghanistan, and with it a sustainable access to the population.

Afghanistan is still struggling with extreme poverty: one third of the population (8 million) people are food insecure. Every year natural disasters strike the population and affect the most vulnerable ones. A conflict is still going on in the country affecting nearly 40 per cent of the territory.

The need to strengthen the humanitarian response is a reality that cannot be denied.

There are two main purposes of HAP: One, to draw the attention of governmental authorities and the international community and; two, to raise funding to address the current humanitarian needs and alleviate the suffering of the population.

How do we address these needs? The government is a central actor in addressing the needs, particularly when it comes to elaborating long-term strategies to tackle extreme poverty and recurrent natural disasters. Second, the UN system, through its agencies, is a crucial partner of the government to provide assistance and support long-term strategies. There is another essential, critical actors present in the field, supporting the population in the 34 provinces, every day, since 1961. I mean civil society – the NGOs.

The NGOs, to support the population, face major challenges. There are two main ones. The first one is access to the population and the reason is mainly related to security. To give you a figure, this year, already 38 aid workers have been killed –with over five workers a month dead, since the beginning of the year. I don’t want to get into details: but one of the reasons is that security is jeopardised because they are finding it difficult to distinguish themselves from other actors such as armed forces and private contractors.

NGOs are not supporting a military strategy, only the population. Do not quote me wrongly on this. I am not saying that the civil society is against the military. The civil society is neither for, nor against the military. The civil society is impartial – they do not take sides. The NGOs are working for the people. Their priority is to address their needs, wherever they are.

NGO are not-for-profit. Their purpose is to use all their resources to provide assistance where it is needed.

NGOs not only face challenges in distinguishing themselves from other actors and in accessing the population, but also struggle to gain access to resources and funding to provide assistance. Even more, to provide an independent and impartial assistance in full respect of the dignity of the people of Afghanistan.

The funding situation of the current HAP – I have a few figures: 68 per cent of the 600 million budget requested in the initial HAP has been supported by the donor community so far. This might be perceived as a successful HAP, but, when looking at the details, it appears that out of the $420 million allocated by the donors, only 4.1 per cent (less than $20 million) actually support NGO projects, while 96 per cent of the funding support UN projects. Ninety-two per cent of the food sector is covered. But what about health, where only 4 per cent is covered? What about water and sanitation in a country where barely 25 per cent of the population has access to clean water and decent sanitation – only 36 per cent is covered? What about protection in a country where a conflict is going on – only 27 per cent are covered?

I would like to make two recommendations. One, I plead to the donor community to support more the other sectors that not related to food aid. Also, I plead to the donor community to support NGO projects in order to support an independent and impartial humanitarian response, in line with the Geneva Convention and in respect of the dignity of the population in conflict affected areas. I also ask to maintain the network of NGO in place, across the country, in order to preserve a sustainable access to the population.

To conclude, the civil society, the NGO community, is a critical partner of the Afghan population. Supporting NGOs means supporting the population – supporting the population mean providing adequate resources to NGOs. Thank you very much.


PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: On the review you are talking about – has it come out of a survey?

MINISTER RAHIMI [translated from Dari]: The appeal was launched six months ago, in February. This is only a mid-term review of the performance of the appeal. Majority of the pledges have gone to food assistance, namely to WFP. The problem that the NGO community and ACBAR, on their behalf, was talking about is that other sectors did not receive sufficient resources. They are very important. For example, the health, protection and emergency agriculture sectors – such as seed – which was very important at that time as it was planting season. Fertilisers, pest management and flood protection; these are very important which unfortunately has received very little attention so far. But we have another six months and we hope that other sectors will also be able to get more attention.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: My question is for, both the Minister and the UN representative. Clearly billions of dollars are coming into the country. But, as you said, the humanitarian needs are still not fully fulfilled. Do you think that donor funding is still intrinsically tied to the political and geographical sector agendas?

DSRSG WATKINS: We definitely know that there has been much more assistance, whether it be development related and humanitarian related assistance that has come into Afghanistan. What we have tried to do with this HAP is to ensure that there is a coordinated framework, in which all actors, both, NGOs and the UN in consultation with the government, but also donors, can work to this one framework so that there are not isolated bilateral assistance programmes which are done in an uncoordinated way.

So we know, indeed, that there are more funds coming in and given in a bilateral way directly. From donors to local governance or other networks that are used – what we are trying to encourage everyone, especially the government, is to work through this framework that we have agreed upon, and which donors agreed upon, and have encouraged us to do. So I think this is the problem.

MINISTER RAHIMI: I think you know, very briefly, if we – the government of Afghanistan and the international community, including the NGOs, if we – improve our coordination in sharing of information, then channel of funding gets less importance.

Whether the money comes through the government or NGOs or the United Nations or private sector – as long as we have a coordination mechanism and we share all our information, it’s all right and there is no problem.

I am sure funding has been provided through various channels. But in other sectors –other than the food through the NGOs – less funds were provided through the appeal. I think that has been the issue.

This does not mean that the humanitarian assistance through other channels has not been addressed. There are lots of examples.

BBC [translated from Dari]: There are allegations that some NGOs misuse the resources allocated to them. There is corruption among those NGOs. That’s why humanitarian assistance does not reach people. What are your comments on that?

ACBAR, SAILLARD: You know, in this country, if my information is correct, more than 1,600 national NGOs are registered and 315 international NGOs are registered. What does it mean? It means there are many actors – as I said in the presentation – working in 34 provinces, basically everywhere in the country. When you have such a volume of activities, of course you will have wrong examples. You cannot imagine the working conditions. We are not working in an easy environment – there are security issues, there is difficulty in understanding the cultural environment.

There are many factors that explain why sometimes the activities do not exactly take place the way they are supposed to. Those are mostly isolated cases. The problem is we tend to take one wrong example and make it a rule. Why don’t we take the question in another way? Yes, if you look, you will always find wrong examples. Every single sector in this country is struggling with that. The private sector also has problems with corruption. I am sure the authorities also have difficulty with that. It is normal, it is unavoidable. But, those are isolated cases. Let’s look at the main trend. The main trend is most of the time – 90 percent of the cases – the money arrives and people receive assistance.

RFE/RL: My question is for the DSRSG. As you mentioned, the appeal and the money has been focusing on food aid, etc and that we need to work on the other aspects of the appeal as well. What will you do to correct the situation?

DSRSG WATKINS: First of all, the most important thing we can do is to bring this information to the attention of the donors – and that's the purpose of this press conference and the launching of the mid-term review, which will be taking place immediately after this with the donors. So we want to draw the issue to their attention – that's the most important thing we can do.

MINISTER RAHIMI: I want to add one more point: the Ministry of Agriculture appeals to the media to give its message to the World Food Programme (WFP), that the WFP should buy food from Afghan farmers instead of importing from outside, in order to encourage them to make the same success for next year, otherwise they may go back to growing poppy.

DSRSG WATKINS: A second point – we have to identify how urgent those other needs are and see if we can redirect other funds that UN agencies and NGOs have to address those urgent needs – so it’s a re-shifting of our own funds. But a problem is that those funds are limited. And to reinforce the Minister’s message: we are very much promoting local procurement for all items that we are buying, whether it be food or medicines. Anything that is available - and locally produced in Afghanistan – we’re promoting for all humanitarian agencies to use as much as possible.