Afghanistan: UN experts supervise demining activities at Kabul airport

Afghanistan: UN experts supervise demining activities at Kabul airport

United Nations experts are working at Kabul airport to clear the area of dangerous mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) that could pose serious safety threats, a UN spokesman announced today.

Spokesman Hassan Ferdous told reporters in Islamabad that the airport in Afghanistan’s capital could have up to three large bombs embedded in the ground, including one under the airstrip. In addition to carrying out mine-clearance activities, the experts were training their Afghan counterparts to help with the task. “We understand there are no mines in Kabul city, but there could be UXOs,” Mr. Ferdous added.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that the security situation in Spinboldak remained tense. “With the announcement yesterday by the Government of Pakistan that the border crossing of Chaman through to Spinboldak is now closed for both refugees and humanitarian aid convoys, WFP cannot deliver food to Spinboldak for the time being,” said Lindsey Davies. She added that the agency’s stocks in Spinboldak could provide food for one month to 16,800 people living in camps in the area.

“On a more positive note, we hope that in the coming days the security situation in Herat will be deemed safe enough for international staff to return to their duty station,” she said. “As soon as this happens, we will be able to start preparations for an emergency citywide distribution for people affected by the current conflict – the same as is being done in Kabul.”

Also in Herat, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has completed aid distribution in four camps. “We expect to run another aid convoy of winter supplies from Iran this weekend, to benefit another 12,000 internally displaced people in northwestern Afghanistan,” said UNHCR spokesperson Maki Shinohara.

Reporting on medical conditions in Kabul, Lori Haieber-Girardet, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the agency’s quick assessment of the city “indicates that most of the health facilities are now functioning although staff salaries have not been paid in over four months.” She expressed concern, however, about the poor security on the road from Jalalabad to Kabul, calling on all parties to respect the need to transport essential medicines for the population.

Meanwhile on a visit to Washington, D.C., Secretary-General Kofi Annan called attention to the grim humanitarian situation facing millions of Afghans. Speaking today to reporters following a meeting with President George W. Bush, Mr. Annan said the UN had been continuing to deliver food to Afghanistan but was facing problems of access because of insecurity. “I hope the situation will clarify in the not-too-distant future to allow us to reach all those in need,” he said.

In a related development, Mark Malloch Brown, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) who has been named by the Secretary-General to coordinate the international recovery effort for Afghanistan, is expected in Islamabad on Thursday before proceeding to Kabul.