Statement Attributable to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy
New York/Geneva/Kabul, June 20 2002 - We are currently witnessing an unprecedented opportunity for national unity and peace in Afghanistan. This past week delegates came from all over the country to participate in the Loya Jirga in Kabul, a grand assembly convened to nominate a transitional government. The pivotal meeting is a major step toward a democratic society, and reflects the desire of Afghanistan's people for a representative government that will truly strive to fulfill their needs. UNICEF sincerely hopes that the dreadful situation of Afghan children and women, who have long endured the brunt of the decades of deprivation, will be accorded the highest priority.
Like the people of Afghanistan, the international community hopes the transitional government that is being formed will work toward a future defined by peace, justice and tolerance-and not the devastating violence and extreme discrimination that have plagued the country for so long. The participation of women in establishing this government-females filled 160 of the Loya Jirga's 1,500 seats-is particularly encouraging.
But even as we move forward, with hope continuing to make headway against fear, Afghanistan remains at a precarious crossroads. We must not lose sight of the tremendous work required so the people of Afghanistan will see tangible and sustained improvements in their lives.
The challenge before the transitional government will be clear-cut: all children and women in Afghanistan must have unhindered access to education, basic health services, clean water and sanitation and other essential services. Moreover, the leaders must strive to respect and fulfill the broader rights of women and children, including the right to participate in all matters affecting their well-being.
Fortunately, the government and its international partners already have important successes to build on. In March, led by the Ministry of Education, 3,500 schools across Afghanistan opened their doors to nearly 2 million boys and girls, many of whom were entering a formal classroom for the first time. I was there for the "Back to School Day," and the scenes of children excitedly running to their classrooms, school bags in hand, were truly inspiring. To get to that point took incredible dedication. The campaign mobilized teachers, registered children, prepared school facilities and organized a curriculum and entire educational structure virtually from scratch.
There have also been significant advances in Afghanistan's health sector this year. To date, almost 6 million children have been vaccinated against measles. The latest round of the polio National Immunization Days (NIDs) ended last week, with more than 40,000 health workers, many of them women, travelling village-to-village, door-to-door in an attempt to immunize every child under five.
Still the challenges Afghanistan faces are enormous. A recent study (by Tufts University and facilitated by UNICEF) has shown that widespread food insecurity continues to threaten much of Afghanistan's population. Three successive years of drought have overwhelmed wide swathes of the country, forcing families and communities to endure extreme water scarcity, limited access to food and debilitating debt.
Progress in Afghanistan requires the guarantee of security throughout the country, which will provide people greater freedom of movement and access to essential services. This must come in tandem with an international commitment of significant resources, and their effective and efficient use. The new transitional government, together with its international partners, must work to establish a policy, budgetary and legislative framework in the best interests of the most vulnerable. With steadfast and long-term dedication to the needs and well-being of women and children, Afghanistan can move toward a better future.
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For more information:
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF-New York, tel: +1 212 326 7261
Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF-Geneva, tel: +41 22 909 5509
Chulho Hyun, UNICEF-Kabul, tel: +4673004 4590