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Archive for November 2006

Visiting the women of Afghanistan

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Source: International Rescue Committee (IRC)  / Date: 24 Nov 2006

By Anne C. Richard

In the five years since the fall of the Taliban, the lot of women in Afghanistan has yet to improve substantially. As International Rescue Committee vice president Anne C. Richard wrote in the November 24 edition of The Globalist, women in the country are still treated as second-class citizens. While gender equality in Afghanistan depends in part on liberalized attitudes toward women, she argued that it is also heavily contingent upon a stabilized security situation.

Kabul. Even though the sound of a suicide bomber exploding on the road to the airport has just reverberated through her office, Mazari Shafa — the Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs — is unshaken.

She ticks off the top issues for women in Afghanistan without missing a beat. But progress on all of them is contingent on improving the security situation — something she is near powerless to influence.

Women’s economic problems top her list. She acknowledges that the Afghan economy is in better shape now than in wartime, but there are more than two million widows in the country (about 8% of the population) who have no income and no one to support them.

Bleak statistics

Women also suffer from little or nonexistent health care, especially in rural areas where there are few medical facilities. The situation is compounded by the fact that women may not be examined by male medics.

Mazari rattles off more statistics: Maternal mortality figures are among the worst in the world. Every thirty minutes, an Afghan woman loses her life in childbirth. Women are diagnosed with 70% of tuberculosis cases.

Unequal education

Moreover, violence against women is difficult to discuss in this conservative society. The deputy minister shows heart-rending photos of women who have set themselves on fire as a way out of violent marriages — or who were burned by angry husbands who then claimed the women did it themselves.

Another priority is education. Women have been left behind by the educational system — 95% are undereducated and confront huge obstacles in finding work or participating in society. The hope that a whole new generation of girls would be educated after the fall of the Taliban hasn’t quite panned out.

There aren’t enough schools or teachers to go around, and secondary education is unheard of. Female teachers are in especially short supply, but you can’t have female teachers unless you send them to school as girls — a classic chicken-and-egg problem.

Bazaar-e-Zanana

Mindful of these daunting challenges, I visit the Bazaar-e-Zanana, a shopping area for women-run businesses and their female customers. In a seamstress shop, Seema is a widow who has been given an apprenticeship and now has a way to earn an income.

Further along there is a clothing store opened by two sisters who used to work for meager wages in a Pakistan factory and now support their entire family. Nasreen, the apprentice at the beauty shop, has a face disfigured by a rocket attack, but one hardly notices because the atmosphere in the shop is busy and friendly.

Uneasy progress

Programs like the Bazaar-e-Zanana — ones that teach women skills and put them to work — exist in other cities too, but it is not clear how long they can continue to be funded.

There was a warm, festive atmosphere at the Bazaar, which I visited during Ramadan. Everyone was looking forward to Eid celebrations marking the end of the fast. Even in the holiday season, though, security is on everyone’s mind.

While rocket attacks have become rare, improvised explosive devices (or IEDs) are on the rise in Kabul and other cities. Throughout the south, there are regular attacks against International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) bases and between ISAF forces and insurgents.

Ominous signs

Afghanistan has not (yet) slid back into full scale war, but security experts tell me the signs are ominous. The challenges expressed by Deputy Minister Shafa are fully understood by the ISAF commanders, who know that their exit strategy depends on economic development in the country.

They not only want peace, they also want prosperity as a way to consolidate the peace. They immerse themselves in meetings with UN officials, Afghan ministries and foreign embassies. They conclude that development in Afghanistan will be a long-term effort and hope the international community will stay committed long enough to follow through with the plans.

A violent existence

At the end of September, the Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar, Safia Ama Jan, was shot to death in front of her home. Significant threats have been made to all the provincial offices of Women’s Affairs.

Afghanistan has not (yet) slid back into full-scale war, but security experts tell me the signs are ominous.

A planned visit of a delegation of prominent women sponsored by the U.S. State Department was scuttled during my trip because of security concerns.

Such is life in Afghanistan — the women’s experts have become targets, the military generals are becoming aid workers (not their core mission), and no one expects peace or quiet for some time yet.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:05 pm

Posted in Women's Rights

School inaugurated in Herat

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Ahmad Qureshi

HERAT CITY, Nov 28 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A boys’ middle school was inaugurated on Tuesday in Raoza Bagh village of Ghuzra district in the western Herat province.

Mohammaddin Fahim, director of the Education Department, told Pajhwok Afghan News the Italian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) granted $83,000 fund for the project. He said the school was built on an acre land had six classrooms and would house 500 students.

Fahim said the Italian-led PRT had already built seven schools in the province. However, Col. John Carlo Chiberro, media officer of the PRT in Herat, said they had constructed 12 other schools in the province.

He said the schools were built following the requirement of the region and by consultation of local community. Chiberro said they would continue the process of building more schools in the area.

Fahim said 0.5 million students were registered in different schools at the moment. With construction of these schools by PRT 35 per cent problems of the students had been resolved, he added. Earlier, about 40 per cent students were studying in the open.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Development, Education

Water supply system completed in Faryab

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KABUL, Nov 28 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A pipe was laid in 16 kilometres on Tuesday to provide 25 water points to 10 villages of Pashtun Kohat in the northern Faryab province.

The project was completed in 14 months with the help of 1,323 workers. The water scheme would provide water to 10 villages of Pashtun Kohat in the areas of Induiak, Bedakalanasar, and Galmuria with 25 water points.

A press statement issued here stated INTERSOS implemented the project that was funded by the European Commission (EC). It would provide safe drinking water to 8,400 people, said Dr. Hansjrg Kretschmer, head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Afghanistan.

This project was started in August 2005. The main purpose of the scheme was to provide potable water and better health facilities to people of Induiak, Bedakalanasar, and Galmuria areas of Pashtun Kohat district.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Development

Toxic mushrooms claim seven lives in Kunduz

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Rohullah Arman

KUNDUZ, Nov 28 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Seven people, five of them children of one family, were killed after eating toxic mushrooms in Archi district of the northern Kunduz province during the last two days.

The plant grows after downpour in forests and cultivated land. Most of the mushrooms have food values, but some of them have poisonous effects for living beings.

Abdulr Bari, 38, resident of Glim Taba area of Archi and the unfortunate father of the five children, told Pajhwok Afghan News:”Two days ago, my son and daughter fetched mushrooms from nearby deserts, after the plant, my two sons and three daughters died one after the other, the reason of their death is shocking and beyond my reason”

The grieved father said they had eaten mushrooms in the past, but even it didn’t cause their illness.

Dr. Faiz Mohammad Sherzad, Director of Health Department at Kunduz, said such mushrooms had toxic materials and the poisonous effect had close links with the quantity used. He said especially children could easily fell prey to the toxic plant.

Dr Faiz said a 25-year boy was under treatment in his clinic. He said the boy was in coma and needed much care. He said about 27 people died due to eating poisonous mushrooms some two years back in the region. Dr. Faiz said it was the responsibility of the Agriculture Department to inform people regarding poisonous mushrooms.

Abdul aziz Nekzad, head of the Agriculture Department said the mushroom that claimed seven lives were of white colour and had toxin while there are yellow and grey colour which is useful for health. A foundation stone of mushroom testing laboratory was also laid in Research farm of Badam Bagh in Kabul that would be constructed in a month.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Health

Afghans battle to combat threats of drugs and Aids

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By Kim Sengupta in Kabul
The Independent (UK)
Published: 30 November 2006

The men sitting around the room at the Nejat Centre have little left but hope – the hope that one day they will be freed from the drugs that have destroyed their lives and those of their families.

Afghanistan, heroin supplier to the world, now has its own problem with addiction, largely ignored and unreported, but continuing to rise at a ferocious rate. The country has all the classic conditions – grinding poverty, lawlessness, corruption, growing prostitution and an endless supply of heroin – for a drug epidemic on a catastrophic scale and the explosion in Aids that inevitably follows.

The last set of figures, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, shows that around 920,000 Afghans are addicted to narcotics, around 4 per cent of the population. Among adult males the figure rises to 12.1 per cent of the population, or 740,000. Even these figures, compiled in 2005, were regarded as an underestimate.

Yet while Nato meets in Riga for its most important summit since the end of the Cold War, with Afghanistan the main topic, and billions of dollars are earmarked for reconstruction, there is little funding for drug treatment, and even less to fight Aids. The Nejat Centre is one of the few places in Afghanistan to deal with drug addiction. It was started by a doctor, Tariq Suliman, at a refugee camp in Peshwar in Pakistan after he saw how many of his fellow Afghans were hooked on heroin and opium.

Dr Suliman points out, with a wry smile, that while the centre at the refugee camp eventually had 20 beds for patients, here in the Afghan capital it can only afford 10. “Even if we had only minimal facilities we would need around $200,000 [£100,000] a year”, he said. “But our budget is $50,000. Obviously we cannot make up the entire shortfall, but we do spend some of our own money.”

The centre is funded by Norwegian, German and American charities. There is no contribution from the Afghan government, and Dr Suliman and his colleagues say they would rather keep away from the kleptocracy of officialdom.

It costs just $1 to buy a packet of 10 syringes in Kabul. But for the dispossessed of this city shattered by decades of war, even that is too much. The reuse of needles is, thus, commonplace, and, with it, infection.

The Nejat Centre cannot afford its own blood-testing facilities and patients are sent to a government hospital. For Khairullah, a 27-year-old carpenter, it is too late, as he has already been diagnosed as HIV positive. Khairullah stays with his widowed mother and four brothers and sisters in their tiny home in the north of the city. He seldom ventures out, the result of a combination of physical weakness and fear of the social stigma he will encounter.

“I do not know if the neighbours are aware of what has happened to me. I would like to die before they find out,” he says in a barely audible voice. “There is nothing the doctors can do, it is up to the will of Allah. I did not know I would end up like this.” Khairullah took up heroin in a refugee camp near Quetta in Pakistan and freely used second-hand needles. “No one told me the dangers”, he said.

Sayid Jawed, 56, is waiting to learn of the results of his blood test while on pre-treatment at the Nejat Centre. He too started drugs in a refugee camp, this time in Iran. “At first it was opium and then heroin,” he said. “And it continued when I came back to Afghanistan after the Taliban. I was earning good money as a driver, so I could afford this. I used needles, and it was not until I came to this centre that I learnt about Aids. We were not taught these things in the past.”

Ahmed Khalid stayed on in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule and freely admits profiting from drugs with the help of the regime. He himself became addicted. “And now I am here,” he said. “Look at me and you will know what has happened to Afghanistan.”

The men sitting around the room at the Nejat Centre have little left but hope – the hope that one day they will be freed from the drugs that have destroyed their lives and those of their families.

Afghanistan, heroin supplier to the world, now has its own problem with addiction, largely ignored and unreported, but continuing to rise at a ferocious rate. The country has all the classic conditions – grinding poverty, lawlessness, corruption, growing prostitution and an endless supply of heroin – for a drug epidemic on a catastrophic scale and the explosion in Aids that inevitably follows.

The last set of figures, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, shows that around 920,000 Afghans are addicted to narcotics, around 4 per cent of the population. Among adult males the figure rises to 12.1 per cent of the population, or 740,000. Even these figures, compiled in 2005, were regarded as an underestimate.

Yet while Nato meets in Riga for its most important summit since the end of the Cold War, with Afghanistan the main topic, and billions of dollars are earmarked for reconstruction, there is little funding for drug treatment, and even less to fight Aids. The Nejat Centre is one of the few places in Afghanistan to deal with drug addiction. It was started by a doctor, Tariq Suliman, at a refugee camp in Peshwar in Pakistan after he saw how many of his fellow Afghans were hooked on heroin and opium.

Dr Suliman points out, with a wry smile, that while the centre at the refugee camp eventually had 20 beds for patients, here in the Afghan capital it can only afford 10. “Even if we had only minimal facilities we would need around $200,000 [£100,000] a year”, he said. “But our budget is $50,000. Obviously we cannot make up the entire shortfall, but we do spend some of our own money.”

The centre is funded by Norwegian, German and American charities. There is no contribution from the Afghan government, and Dr Suliman and his colleagues say they would rather keep away from the kleptocracy of officialdom.

It costs just $1 to buy a packet of 10 syringes in Kabul. But for the dispossessed of this city shattered by decades of war, even that is too much. The reuse of needles is, thus, commonplace, and, with it, infection.

The Nejat Centre cannot afford its own blood-testing facilities and patients are sent to a government hospital. For Khairullah, a 27-year-old carpenter, it is too late, as he has already been diagnosed as HIV positive. Khairullah stays with his widowed mother and four brothers and sisters in their tiny home in the north of the city. He seldom ventures out, the result of a combination of physical weakness and fear of the social stigma he will encounter.

“I do not know if the neighbours are aware of what has happened to me. I would like to die before they find out,” he says in a barely audible voice. “There is nothing the doctors can do, it is up to the will of Allah. I did not know I would end up like this.” Khairullah took up heroin in a refugee camp near Quetta in Pakistan and freely used second-hand needles. “No one told me the dangers”, he said.

Sayid Jawed, 56, is waiting to learn of the results of his blood test while on pre-treatment at the Nejat Centre. He too started drugs in a refugee camp, this time in Iran. “At first it was opium and then heroin,” he said. “And it continued when I came back to Afghanistan after the Taliban. I was earning good money as a driver, so I could afford this. I used needles, and it was not until I came to this centre that I learnt about Aids. We were not taught these things in the past.”

Ahmed Khalid stayed on in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule and freely admits profiting from drugs with the help of the regime. He himself became addicted. “And now I am here,” he said. “Look at me and you will know what has happened to Afghanistan.”

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Health

European Commission says one billion euro pledge to Afghanistan completed

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Brussels, Nov 30, IRNA

In 2002 the European Commission had pledged one billion euro over five years to support the reconstruction and development process of Afghanistan.

Today the final commitments to realize this pledge have been approved, said the Commission in a statement Thursday.

Today’s decision cover support to provincial governance, to improve service delivery to the local population (10.6 million euro) and support for the Afghanistan Variety and Seed Industry Development Project (10 million euro).

“In 2002 the European Commission promised to be a steadfast partner for Afghanistan. Today we have kept our promise in full, and ahead of schedule.” said EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Aid

Pakistan registers 525,000 Afghans

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By HANS GREIMEL
Associated Press
November 30, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan has registered 525,000 Afghans on its soil as part of a new campaign to address the problems of war refugees, illegal immigrants and Taliban infiltrators, the government said Thursday.

The registration, which includes taking photos of Afghans and issuing identification cards, marks an important milestone for a national database launched Oct. 15, the Foreign Ministry said. There are some 2.4 million Afghans believed to be in the country.

Of the 525,000 Afghans registered by Thursday, more than half were in the North West Frontier Province that envelops the remote and rugged borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The area is a flash point for regional tensions and believed to harbor Taliban and al-Qaida militants and sympathizers. Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding in the area.

The issue of Afghans in Pakistan stretches back to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which triggered a wave of refugees. In recent times, it has strained ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both key U.S. allies in the war on terror, amid suspicions that Taliban militants slip back and forth across the porous border.

Documenting Afghans in Pakistan is expected to help address security concerns, pave the way for the deportation of illegal immigrants and identify legitimate refugees.

The Foreign Ministry said about 19,000 Afghans are being registered daily at 60 sites nationwide. Only Afghans who are registered will be entitled to stay in the country.

Pakistan and the U.N. High Commission for Refugees had earlier signed an agreement on the registration of Afghan citizens in Pakistan as part of efforts to document and manage the Afghan population in Pakistan.

More than 2.87 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance since the U.S. ousted the Taliban government.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 30, 2006 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Refugees