Press Briefing by the UN Offices in Kabul


12 December – Press Briefing by Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary- General for Afghanistan, DSRSG for Reconstruction, Relief and Recovery

Good morning everybody. You probably know that over the last month or so the UN system and the Government have been engaged quite extensively in discussing the programmes that have happened this year and plans for next year. We've now reached agreement on a programme of cooperation which will start on 1 January and last fifteen months till March of 2004. Just to give you the broad figures. The appeal is called a Transitional Assistance Programme for Afghanistan, TAPA. The appeal will be for a total value of 815 million US dollars of which 67.5 million US dollars are being sought for support for refugee programmes outside Afghanistan; that's in Pakistan, Iran and countries to the north.

So, that means that we are looking for 748 million US dollars for that fifteen months period for programmes within Afghanistan. And as I said, this is as the result of an exhaustive review with national counterparts on what the UN and they should be doing together. Just to compare: the appeal that end s the end of this month was also a fifteen months appeal which started on 1 October last years. For that we have received about 1.66 billion US dollars since October 1.

The appeal obviously is much smaller than the last appeal. Just to compare what is happening. You look at the large agencies that were involved this year primarily humanitarian activities. World Food Programme; for the fifteen months period ending now they have received 397 million US dollars, largely for food aid to vulnerable groups. But in the coming fifteen months they are asking for less than half of that for 150 mln and only part of that is now going to be concentrated on direct food aid to vulnerable groups. More of that is moving to food for work programmes and more is moving into food for children to gain access to schools. So, you see that it's a transition from a purely humanitarian to early recovery activities. If you take UNHCR, which this year helped to make sure that over 1.8 million refugees returned to the country and 400,000 IDP returned home. In the period ending this month, they have received about 267 million US dollars for their programmes. Next year they are asking for 215 million US dollars. It's a slight drop but they estimate that next year will be looking at 1.2 million refugees returning. Unlike this year, the balance is going to be a little more even between returns from Iran and Pakistan. This year the great majority came back from Pakistan. Next year we estimate that 600,000 will come back from Pakistan, about 500,000 from Iran, which will be an increase on this year and about a 100,000 from elsewhere. So, again, there work is also shifting not only enabling refugees to return but working with other agencies and the government in the communities of return to make sure that both the refugees and the people who are there already can actually stay there. To make sure that they have jobs, the agriculture has been recuperated, that there are school and so on. If you take an agency that is primarily focused on reconstruction and development issues, like [United Nations Children's Fund], UNICEF, for this current period they have received about 144 mln US dollars. In the new period they are asking for 89 mln US dollars.

Obviously these are still big figures, but it shows a downward trend, because there are now many more actors in Afghanistan, than there were a year ago. In fact the main route for resources coming to Afghanistan was truly NGO community and UN. That's no longer the case. And also the needs have changed and obviously as the emphasis increasingly focuses on macro reconstruction of roads, damns, bridges and airports. These are not areas were you will find UN agencies working. This is going to be bi-lateral, it's going to be multilateral assistance. I am sorry, it's going to be the World Bank and International Financial Institutions' assistance.

Most of all, we are trying also to say to donors that less resources needed to come through the United Nations, more should go directly through the government, either through the budgets or through the trust funds the government is setting up.

So, it's called a transitional programme, because it's precisely that. We are transitioning from focus on humanitarian to a strong emphasis on reconstruction. A focus on, as I said, on Agriculture, on food for work, food for schooling rather than food aid specifically for millions of the most vulnerable. Focusing not only on refugee return but the maintenance of their livelihoods in their communities of return.

One component of those programmes for this year and next year is mine action and a clearance of unexploded ordinance. And that remains a major area of concern. You may know that national authorities and the mine action coordination group have agreed on a five year plan to remove mines from high priority areas of social and economic activities. And that alone is going to require 300 million US dollars which means we have to go into overdrive for fundraising for this important endeavor. It's very clear from the donor community that they will at best maintain levels of funding for mine action. We think that in fact quite a few donor governments will reduce their funding. So, we better look for alternative channels from the private sector overseas, from the general public. So, we have to go into a different mode of fundraising.

Education and health - again the transition programme is combination of a campaign approach. For example massive training of the teachers who are already in place. Campaigns to vaccinate children against polio measles and women against tetanus. Maintaining the campaign approach that we've had, but it is combined at the same time with help to the administration to start rebuilding the school system, teacher-training institutions, primarily health care system and above all the provision of obstetric care for women at time of pregnancy and a child birth. Because, as you know, recently an assessment done by the Ministry of Health and the UN showed incredibly high figures of maternal mortality in Afghanistan, particularly in Badaghshan, where highest figure ever recorded in an international survey. It is 6500 deaths per 100,000 live births. That's a huge figure. So, we have to tackle these issues.


Another element you will find a growing consonance between the UN programmes and the national government programmes is an emphasis on labour intensive and cash for work programmes. You will see a lot more of those happening at community level next year. The government wants to set up a special fund for donors to contribute to labour intensive programmes. By March or April we hope demobilization and reintegration of former combatants is going to start to begin. So, you are going to see again tens of thousands of former combatants coming into a workforce and needed a vocational training as well as jobs. Jobs are going to be quite a feature of a next year.


I think another unusual element of an appeal, which is usually focused on the humanitarian, is the emphasis that gives to supporting public administration. To supporting capacity within the government not only centrally, but at the provincial level to restart taking control of the administration of the country. You will see more and more UN personnel moving into government departments. Already, we have 140 UN personnel working in government departments here in the capital. And you will see that increasingly happening at provincial level too. I think you will start to see some of the UN offices being collocated in provincial government premises. We are trying to bring these two together. Because as you know, there has often been a lot of tension reported between the international community and the government over in a sense where the resources are going. We are trying to address that and that's been very much part of the review process with the government. Maybe, I should stop on that in terms of the transitional programme.


Let me just give you as a broader context for the discussion on Spin Boldak. A quick overview where we are on the winter preparedness programme. Again, as you know, the winter preparedness programme, that was worked out between the government, UN and NGO partners was covering about 2.1 million of the most extreme vulnerable Afghans who are most food insecure. And these are scattered around the country, whether it is the Central Highlands, the south in places like Zabul, or the west and northeast. That actually is going very well, compared with last year. 95 per cent of the food aid required for these two million is now distributed and pre-positioned by WFP and International Committee and Red Cross. We have been able to meet all the needs we had plan for in the area of shelter and materials to ward off the cold. So things like tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, stoves and coal. These have been distributed whether to people in Kabul, poor people who just returned or in need of shelter, or to other places around the country. We have shortfalls of materials that we are seeking to help people to actually reconstruct their homes, things like door and window frames and beams. But overall, this programme is very much on track.


However, what we are finding is the demand for winter support is in fact much greater. Although, as I said, the agreement between us and the government was for a programme to reach just over two million people from all over the country, we are getting requests from governors and others who say that besides those poorest of the poorer, we still have a lot of people who need emergency aid. So, we are now undertaking with the government a quick review of these requests from around the country to see if we need to increase the winter package. We have also set up a group to help deal with many of these problems, because, quite often the requests come directly to the president then he comes back with what is happening. So, we are trying to set up a better mechanism for responding to these requests and channeling them. If we find, which I think we probably will, that we need to extend the programme, then we have to go back to donors for more assistance. So, that's a quick overview on the winter. And I will be happy to answer questions.


Q: It seems that donor money is now being channeled through the Government's budget and trust funds. Can you explain the thinking behind that especially in light of donor fears in the past?


DSRSG: Well, as I said, in the past, during the Taliban years, pretty well the only route by which the international community channeled its resources into Afghanistan was through the UN and the agencies. But that's changed. I think you have to look at the resources that are coming to the budget this year just for budget support. Which, I think tops well over 200 million US dollars. This shows that there is some confidence of the donor community in this government and some desire to support it in meeting its' core operational costs. On the other hand, donors and we all realize that it is a long way to go for this government to be able to develop capacity to take on all the responsibilities of the government machinery. Many donors, therefore, are still in a sense balancing their contributions directly to the budget. We also have a large and increasing Afghan reconstruction trust funds well over 200 million US dollars, which is being supported by the donors community. And it's a trust fund in which there is a managing body - I am a member of that body - that reviews regularly from the government. So, it allows the government to set the priorities. On the other hand you still have many donors, who are committed, for example, to multilateral contributions here and elsewhere. And they will continue to resource those. You have organizations like ECHO who are mandated only to support NGO community. So, they will continue to do that. So, I think it is a mix of mandate and then wait and see.


Q: Are you sensing a shift in the pervious positions of the donors?


DSRSG: Very much so. And I think they recognize the shift in a sense recognizing we, the UN need to have more focused goal, one which will require less resources. Frankly, it's the job of all of us to support the development of national capacity. We assume that in a few years the level of resources coming from the international community to Afghanistan will decline. By the time we leave, we have to be sure that there is capacity whether in civil society or in the government. So that Afghans can take control of their own future. And that's should be a primary objective.


Q: On winterization - there seems to have been some miscalculation. How quickly can we expect a review to be conducted to assess who else is need of help?


DSRSG: I don't think it's a miscalculation, because we have to take (inaudible) what else has been coming into the country this. We have had the food aid, for example, coming in to WFP, which has reached over 8 million people this year. And that's again above target. This was based on assessments of households food insecurity, nutritional status, food vulnerability early in the year. And it was designed to focus on those people who are going to be the most affected by the winter cold. So, for example in the south east, Jalalabad area expect for a few pockets, they were not included into this winter programme. Because, we were looking at who is going to be cut off by the snow, or who is going to be most affected by the cold. That's how we came up with the two million figure. It does not represent every vulnerable person in this country, but those most vulnerable in areas where winter is the worst.


But as I say what we get back from other sides is that they say: hang on we have needs too, we would like to be included. So, we'll see, can we in any way accelerate the normal programmes or do we have the come back for additional approach for these people? So, that's what we are looking at.


The government itself was concerned that we not over exaggerate needs this winter. Because they said that there has been progress, there are many less vulnerable people then last year and we are dealing with many of these in our regular programme.


Q: How quickly will you get that review document done?


DSRSG: Nest two weeks.


Q: Are you confident that donor countries will find the requirements to meet Afghan issues given the shift in the international focus to other places?


DSRSG: Obviously, this issue has been discussed a lot. We have asked this specific question to major donors. We received consistent assurances that they will not take their eye off ball in Afghanistan, and therefore we must believe them.