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Afghanistan: UN-backed immunization drive starts amid calls for end to violence

Afghanistan: UN-backed immunization drive starts amid calls for end to violence

United Nations agencies have teamed up with Government health workers to carry out a polio immunization drive in insurgency-affected areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, just days before the end of a nine-week campaign aimed at achieving an end to violence in the strife-torn nation on and around 21 September, Peace Day.

The three-day immunization drive aims to take advantage of the window of opportunity for accessing children in need created by the Peace Day campaign, which began on 19 July when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) teamed up with Jeremy Gilley, founder of Peace One Day, actor Jude Law and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to promote the International Day of Peace – marked each year on 21 September.

“We call again upon the entire community, every woman, man and child, to support genuinely and in whatever way they can this effort for a real Peace Day in Afghanistan,” UN Deputy Special Representative Bo Asplund said. “To save even a single life is a success.”

Afghanistan is one of four countries, along with India, Nigeria and Pakistan, that still suffers endemic polio. Many districts in the southern part of the country have been missed in previous polio immunization drives due to insecurity.

According to UNICEF and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), five children have been paralyzed from this preventable disease in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, in the lead up to Peace Day, UNICEF and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have urged that children and teachers at schools and literacy centres around the country be protected from all acts of violence.

The education programmes serving over 6 million children and the UN joint literacy programme for 120,000 people in Afghanistan are the “keys to empowerment of every Afghan child and family and necessary steps towards peacebuilding in a country that has experienced over two decades of conflict,” the two agencies said in a joint statement issued today in Kabul.

Security incidents in schools and threats against students and teachers in Afghanistan have spiked in recent months, disrupting education in the country, which this year has seen some of the worst violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Over 30 attacks against schools, many involving the torching or blowing up of school premises, have been reported in all parts of the country in the first half of this year. In addition, deliberate attacks on girls and female teachers have resulted in at least four deaths and six injuries in the same period.

The UN will also mark Peace Day by declaring the Saighan district of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province a Peace District on Friday. As many as 70 different sorts of weapons and ammunitions are expected to be surrendered by some 13 commanders of local armed groups in the province, under an operation run by the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP).

The ANBP is a project of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) that was created in April 2003 to assist the Afghan Government in implementing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).