Archive for October 2008
• Kabul steps up campaign to restore cultural heritage
• Thousands of treasures repatriated from abroad
* Helena Smith in Athens
* The Guardian,
* Thursday October 30 2008
It has been described as one of the great acts of cultural desecration of modern times, a rampant pillage that threatens to denude a country of much of its fabulous heritage. But now Afghanistan is stepping up an ambitious campaign to stop the looting of the country’s archaeological sites, with a programme to build museums, train archaeologists and repatriate the billions of dollars worth of stolen antiquities that have been spirited through its porous borders during the past seven years.
“We’re in the process of building 10 provincial museums, training more archaeologists, repatriating stolen treasures and making a red-list of [looted] art works,” the deputy culture minister, Omar Sultan, said during an official visit to Greece.
“But we also desperately need to educate young Afghans about the importance of their culture,” he told the Guardian. “There is a whole generation out there who have only ever known weapons and war. If they are sensitised, if they can be made to feel there is a cultural heritage of which they can be proud, they can influence their parents who help the gangs.”
The authorities are starting to make progress with repatriating stolen artefacts retrieved from overseas: in the past year, thousands of treasures have been repatriated from Denmark and Switzerland. Four tonnes of valuable items, holed up at Heathrow airport since 2005, are also due to be returned in coming weeks.
But formidable challenges still face Sultan and his colleagues. Attempts to hire extra guards to protect sites have failed because the authorities were unable to pay them more than $10 (£6) a month, or even equip them with telephones and cars. The security vacuum has allowed illegal smugglers to prosper. Working at night, gangs of Afghans in the pay of warlords and plunderers have turned swaths of the country into the moonscapes that now stand as testimony to the cultural desecration.
“People are hungry and they’re desperate, and smugglers play on that,” said Sultan, a Greek-trained archaeologist. “There are heroes in Afghanistan who have worked without any credit to save our treasures. But I worry that if this continues, looters will take everything – such is the scale of the organised crime.”
He is appealing for international funding to provide stronger protection for important sites and better equipment to guards. He also wants more countries to follow Greece’s lead in offering scholarships to trainee archaeologists. Afghanistan has only six trained archaeologists.
Even before the 2001 US-led invasion, nearly three decades of war and the fundamentalist Islamist rule of the Taliban had resulted in terrible loss to Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, most notably with the looting of the national museum in Kabul.
The destruction by the Taliban of the giant Buddhas carved into the mountainside at Bamiyan, with dynamite, picks and axes in 2001 – monuments the Afghans, in collaboration with international conservationists, are trying to restore – highlighted the country’s plight.
Sultan said it would be a big moment for Afghanistan when the relics currently impounded at Heathrow are returned. The objects date mostly from the great Bronze Age of the Bactrian civilisation in the second millennium BC, as well as the later pre-Islamic period.
“It will be a great moment for us when they return from Britain,” Sultan said. “I always say that our cultural heritage doesn’t just belong to us – it belongs to the world, and that’s why I hope the world will come and help us. About 90% of what we have underground has still not been discovered, and it needs to be protected.”
Afghanistan has some of the finest treasures and Hellenistic sites in the world, thanks in part to Alexander the Great, who invaded in 337BC. The looted Bactrian treasures include gold discs, elaborate jewels and gold-carved weapons. The national museum saw 70% of its treasures lost to looters in 1993. Antiquities are frequently smuggled through Pakistan and Iran. Treasures seized at Heathrow in 2005 included hundreds of jewels, axe-heads, stone statues, gold ornaments, ivory games pieces, ceramics, bronze seals and other ancient objects.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
Tue Oct 28, 2008
KABUL (AFP) – The fall in opium production in Afghanistan this year should be followed by the delivery of promised aid, the UN drugs office said, calling for more better targeted anti-drugs messages.
The drop of one fifth in the area under cultivation between 2007 and 2008 was due to farmers deciding not to plant the crop rather than government attempts to eradicate opium, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative said.
“There is always the danger of a backlash,” Christina Oguz warned.
“For example, in Nangarhar (province), poppy cultivation is going up and down — down when promises are made, up when the aid is not delivered.”
Oguz stressed that the anti-drugs campaign should be adapted to the different local contexts in Afghanistan, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.
The “religion message” — that opium is not allowed in Islam — carries for example different weight in different areas.
In Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east it is powerful, Oguz said.
In the far northern province of Badakhsan, it is less so, with people more convinced by the links between opium and unrest.
In a country where television coverage is confined largely to towns and many people cannot read because of high illiteracy rates, “the most powerful media communication is word of mouth,” the official said.
“We believe influential public figures and mullahs should be encouraged much more to spread these messages,” she added.
Farmers generally do not see the link between opium and terrorism, Oguz said.
But according to the UN and Washington, a good part of the profits from the drugs go towards the Taliban who also earn money from protecting fields and trafficking routes.
“Poppy cultivation is no longer an Afghan problem,” Oguz added.
“It’s a problem in the south and the southwest,” she said, pointing out that 98 percent of production is concentrated in seven out of 34 provinces which are also among those most affected by the insurgency.
Poverty is the main motivation for opium production, the UNODC representative said.
“Many people use opium as the main source of cash income, they rely more on opium sales than on wheat production to satisfy their needs.”
UNODC figures say that despite the 19 percent drop in the area used to grow opium this year, output only dipped six percent because of better yields per hectare with an estimated annual harvest of 7,700 tonnes.
Washington issued more optimistic figures last week, saying it estimated output had dropped to 5,500 tonnes this year compared with 8,000 in 2007.
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.
Kabul, Afghanistan (October 22, 2008) – ActionAid together
with the European Union through its Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO)
today launched a Cash for Work Programme in Afghanistan.
The programme is being implemented in 40 of the most vulnerable
villages in Darzab and Qushtepa districts in Jawzjan Province and
Dawlatabad and Kaldar districts in Balkh province in northern
It aims to provide around 5,000 families with enough food to
cover at least half of their daily requirements throughout the harsh
Recent statistics from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and
Development (MRRD) revealed that at least 1.5 million people in 19 of
Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, mostly farming communities in the north,
have been severely affected by drought and are in need of urgent
ActionAid recently conducted a vulnerability analysis – in
close coordination with local communities – of 150,000 people in 97
villages in 10 districts of Jawzjan and Balkh provinces.
This identified 5,376 of the most vulnerable people – including
widows, the disabled, the elderly and daily wage earners who are either
landless or who have lost their livelihood due to drought.
Of this figure, 480 extremely vulnerable individuals will
receive direct aid, 96 as site supervisors and the rest to work either
on canal cleaning, building school boundary walls or road
“Since we started our operations in 2002, the Cash for Work
Programme has provided urgent humanitarian support for those who are
suffering the most,” said ActionAid’s country director GB Adhikari.
“However, as we also use the rights-based approach in our
projects, we always emphasize the importance of using their daily
earnings to create more established and enduring livelihood
The scheme will be launched at Jawzjan and Mazar Provincial
Conference Hall during the week of 22-26 October 2008. The event also
brings together local and national government agencies as well as
international key players such as TearFund, Save the Children UK, ZOA
Refugee Agency, and German Agro Action (GAA) in working towards
alleviation of hunger in the country.
ActionAid Afghanistan has established food security networks in
different villages in the country following its April 4, 2006
membership to the International Food Security Network and plays an
active role in ActionAid’s global HungerFree campaign aimed at
influencing food security issues in local, national and international
Mr. Mudasser Hussain Siddiqui
Policy & Advocacy Manager
Contact: +93 (0) 799476991
Ms. Liny Edyawati Suharlim
Partnership Development Manager
Contact: +93 (0) 773131496