UNAMA's weekly press conference
KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Dr Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.
UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT ON AFGHANISTAN
As you will have seen, the United Nations Secretary-General released his latest report on Afghanistan on Friday, which detailed, amongst other areas, the United Nations’ support for the forthcoming presidential and provincial elections.
The report also summed up three strategic shifts that have taken place in Afghanistan this year: first, an increased emphasis on civilian efforts; second, a new focus on sub-national governance; and, third, the alignment of international efforts behind government programmes in key areas.
According to the Secretary-General, significant developments have taken place over the last three months, such as the expansion of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, as well as in the areas of agriculture, private sector development and capacity-building. Donor coordination has also improved.
Secretary-General Ban also welcomed the deployment of additional troops into Afghanistan.
Please do pick up your copy of the report in English from the side table. We will have full translated versions in Pashto and Dari shortly which we will distribute to you all this afternoon.
SRSG KAI EIDE AT G8 SUMMIT
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide, stressed the need for investment in large infrastructure projects in Afghanistan at the G-8 summit. The meeting took place on 25 and 26 June in Italy.
The SRSG stressed the importance of developing infrastructure, saying it was “the most critical precondition for economic growth.”
He identified two important sectors to invest in – transport infrastructure and energy.
He said, “Investment in large projects that can drive sustainable economic development in Afghanistan and the region will deliver returns, economic and political, in both the short and the long-term.”
Click here for full press statement.
WORLD DRUG REPORT
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched its World Drug Report 2009, last week, to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
As you will have seen, there has been a decrease in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation area. As a result, global opium poppy cultivation dropped to 189,000 hectares in 2008. There’s more positive news, as the agency estimates that the number of Afghans involved in opium poppy cultivation fell by 28 per cent between 2007 and 2008.
UNODC is also currently conducting a drug abuse survey in Afghanistan, which expects to show a “substantial” expansion of demand.
ENHANCEMENT OF LITERACY IN AFGHANISTAN
Eight hundred people from Bamiyan, of which half were women, benefited from a six-month literacy class that ended last week.
These classes were organised by UNESCO. The project aims to help 600,000 people, more than half of whom will be women in 18 provinces across Afghanistan in the next five years.
POULTRY IN KABUL AND KAPISA
Two thousand vulnerable women from the Mirbacha Kot district of Kabul and the Mahmood Raqi district of Kapisa province each received comprehensive poultry production start-up kits last Thursday.
This grassroots project will help these women to support their families and it is hoped many will go on to set up small businesses.
The women have already completed three months of their six months of training. This project, which is funded by the UN agency FAO is expected to benefit 20,000 families in ten districts within three years.
UNOPS PROVIDES VOCATIONAL TRAINING FOR 500 ASSISTANT ENGINEERS AT A KABUL CONSTRUCTION SITE
United Nations Office for Project Services teamed up with two Kabul vocational schools to provide on-site job training at Sarder e-Kabuli Girls High school.
In total, 350 students, who are training to become assistant engineers were trained.
One hundred students received further training in surveying, construction management, quality control, and structural design.
UNICEF HEALTH CAMPAIGN
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is conducting a two-month campaign in Kabul to control diarrhea and its related diseases.
The campaign was launched on 25 June by the Ministers of Public Heath and Urban Development.
UNICEF said the campaign was launched to raise community awareness of the key transmission routes and the prevention measures of diarrhea diseases; to encourage communities to take action to prevent these diseases; and to encourage hand washing with soap and water by all.
About two million people will be reached by UNICEF’s hygiene messages through mass media and face-to-face visits.
At the same time, UNICEF has started a ten-day hygiene education campaign on 20 June in 388 schools in Kabul city and province.
The campaign hopes to create awareness of the importance of hygiene and sanitation and their link with health; to encourage children to wash their hands with soap and clean water; and to use the toilet and keep it clean.
DSRSG WATKINS ARRIVES IN AFGHANISTAN
Robert Watkins, the new United Nations Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, began his work in Afghanistan on Sunday.
Mr Watkins, who is one of two deputies of Special Representative Kai Eide will also act as the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative. He takes over from Bo Asplund.
UNAMA CALLS FOR SUBMISSION OF ONE MINUTE PEACE FILMS FOR FESTIVAL
UNAMA is asking budding filmmakers to submit their entries for the first ever “1-MINUTE Film Festival for Peace in Afghanistan”, to be held on Peace Day on 21 September 2009.
This competition accepts all types of films – including documentaries, dramas and animations.
All entries must be submitted before 21 August and they must not exceed one minute in length.
For more information, please speak to any one of my colleagues after this press conference.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
RAH NEJAT [translated from Dari]: In order to solve the crisis in Afghanistan, stress has always been put on the regional approach. Iran is one of the neighbouring countries that did not participate in the G-8 group meeting in Italy. How do you consider or assess that?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: As for the G-8 group, this is a combination of the big, industrial countries and they have had their meetings for a long time. Of course, Afghanistan is not part of this group – but was part of this year's meetings. What is important is that, after eight years, these countries are still focusing on Afghanistan in terms of providing support, security and so forth.
NOOR [translated from Dari]: In the Secretary-General’s report, there was also mention about the increase in civilian casualties. What do you say about this?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Yes. I would like to express once again the position of UNAMA and the whole of the United Nations in this regard.
The first part is that we are a political mission and it is part of the mission’s job to support civilians. One of the key parts of our mandate is to ensure the protection of civilians across the country. As you know we have spoken out on the use of Special Forces and their conduct in operations and on air strikes. Do not underestimate these political methods as a way to make change for the good and to ensure civilians are protected.
SABA TV [translated from Dari]: My question, again, is regarding the issue of the report, in particular, the security situation. In addition to the improvements in security in some areas, there were challenges expressed. And, also it was mentioned about not supporting any particular candidate, but again in this regard there has also been challenges expressed. I want you to give more details on that.
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: It seems that you have read the report thoroughly which is good. And it is true that the overall number of security incidents continued to rise during the reporting period.
I would like to draw your attention to another part of this report with regard to security - that despite this extremely complex reality, some progress has been achieved in key parts of the country.
Coordination between the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and the National Directorate of Security has improved, resulting in a sharp decrease in security incidents in Kabul and surrounding provinces such as Wardak and Logar.
Several terrorist attacks have been thwarted.
As for the elections, I would like to reiterate what the SRSG has said on different occasions – that the UN will not support any one candidate in the election.
TOLO [translated from Dari]: My question is about the increase in civilian casualties. A number of human rights organisations here have said that compared to the first six months last year, this year the number of civilian casualties has decreased. What do you say to this?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: The report that was just issued by the Secretary-General is in your hands and you can look at that. But, as we mentioned earlier, the security situation has been different in different parts of the country. In some parts, the security situation has been good. In other parts, the security situation was not pleasant.
KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: President Karzai has invited the Taliban to participate in these elections. Do you support that? Would you like the Taliban to participate in these elections?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: We hope that all the people of Afghanistan will be able to participate in these elections. And, the group that you mentioned – if they wish to participate in these elections and they respect the Constitution of Afghanistan, it would be a positive step. And as you know, the UN Special Representative has made a number of statements on this issue.
PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: In this report, it was mentioned that this year saw a 24 per cent increase in civilian casualties. I would like to know the overall percentage of civilian casualties in the last year?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: The number of civilian casualties last year, which were reported in the Secretary-General’s report released in March this year – cover the period from January 2008 to 31 December 2008 – is 2,118 people. Fifty-five per cent of these casualties were inflicted by anti-government elements through suicide bombs and roadside bombs. The rest of them have mainly been inflicted by air strikes carried out by national and international forces. And that’s why we welcomed the latest review of the air-strikes strategy by General McChrystal.
BBC [translated from Pashto]: My question has two parts: The first part is regarding the UNODC report on the 28 per cent decrease in the number of Afghans who have been involved in poppy cultivation. It comes at a time when the Minister of Counter-Narcotics says that the international community has not provided enough support to tackle this issue. The second part of the question is regarding the presidential candidates’ debates. President Karzai recently said in his press conference that the only condition to be present in the debate is the dual nationality of those who have challenged him for this debate, and this is kind of putting the independence of the IEC under question. How do you assess this as an organisation that provides logistic and financial support to the electoral process?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: As to your first question, we want to see poppy cultivation stopped in Afghanistan. As we see, the 28 per cent decrease in the number of Afghans involved in poppy cultivation and also the decrease in the amount of land being cultivated shows that there is progress being made. But still we have to do more, much more to do. Also, there might be a change in these strategies.
As you know, the UN is providing support, through UNDP-ELECT project and it also supports the IEC, in coordination, and financial and technical support. What UNAMA is doing is to monitor this process and we will release three reports about what has been witnessed during this process. And the international community, together with Afghan institutions, will take part in the monitoring of the electoral process. And, if we see any violations and there is proof and documentation – then we will take action. As for the debates, it is an opportunity for the candidates to share their views with the people. It is up to them as to how to make it possible.
SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: You mentioned about the participation of opposition groups. It’s at a time that some civil society organisations, for example, a big gathering of women, yesterday said that if the opposition will not participate in the elections it will not be good. So my question is: if a large group of women will not participate in the election, then it is a big number of people who will be left out. Given all these facts, do you think that this election will be fair and transparent?
UNAMA [translated from Dari]: First of all, 4.5 million new voters have registered so far. A lot of them are women. I don’t think that all women have decided not to participate in these elections. Only a small number of women may have decided not to participate and it is their own decision. But I believe that a big number of people in Afghanistan will participate in this election and cast their votes.
One thing I would like to share with all of you is that these elections are very important for Afghanistan. Because of almost three decades of war, it is the first time Afghans are trying to hold and manage elections. Participation of a large number of men and women in these elections will signify great success and pride to the Afghan people. If you think about holding an election only in terms of logistical preparation, it is a huge undertaking and it takes a lot of effort. The size of this process will signify a great pride to the Afghan people.