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Visiting his 100th country, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies, Martin Bell travels to Afghanistan

LONDON, 6 December 2006 - Former BBC War Correspondent and UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies, Martin Bell, returned from Afghanistan recently following his first visit to the country. This visit makes it 100 countries that Bell has travelled to around the world. The week long trip was an opportunity for Bell to see first hand how children and women are affected by the current situation. 

While in Afghanistan, Bell travelled to Mazar-i-Sharif and Sherbergan in northern Afghanistan as well as Kabul to visit schools, women’s literacy projects, health clinics, street children and war-affected children as well as meeting with village elders. 

In Mazar-i-Sharif, Bell went to a UNICEF supported women’s literacy centre where over a hundred women are receiving an education for the very first time. Most of the women at the centre were unable to get an education due to conflict and cultural sensitivities around girls going to school. These women are now learning to read and write as well as benefiting from sewing and embroidery classes.

Talking about his experiences in Afghanistan, Bell said:

“What struck me most in Afghanistan was the thirst for education and lasting peace from the many women and children who I met.

“In Northern Afghanistan, I went to a girl’s school that was closed for three years during the Taliban years. The girls at the school were enthusiastic about getting an education and wanted to be teachers, doctors and journalists in the future.

“I also met a female teacher who told me that for every school being burned down by people who did not believe that girls should get an education they would build four more in its place.”

UNICEF has provided much-needed teaching materials for schools in Afghanistan, where there are currently 1.5 million girls in primary school.

While in Kabul, Bell visited Malalai Hospital, which is the largest maternity referral hospital in Afghanistan where the majority of complicated cases are being referred. The very high maternal mortality rate of 1,600 per 100,000 means that one woman dies every 27 minutes from maternity related issues. UNICEF has provided vital equipment and training at the hospital.

Iodine deficiency is a major public health problem in Afghanistan. A survey conducted in 2004 revealed that 72 per cent of school age children and 75 per cent of women of child bearing age are iodine deficient. This can cause mental retardation, poor intellectual capacity, high infant and child mortality as well as an increased risk of stillbirths. With UNICEF support an estimated; five million people living in and around Kabul city get iodised salt from the plant that Bell visited.

Despite the progress that has been made for women and children, Afghanistan remains a country where:

• Six hundred children under the age of five die every day, mostly from preventable causes;
• Diarrhoea, respiratory infections, malaria and malnutrition are deadly threats;
• The majority of the population lacks access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities;
• At least 50 women die every day from obstetric complications, linked to low rates of female literacy and poor education; and
• Under-five mortality rates are 40 times worse than the average in industrialised countries.

As Afghanistan continues to emerge from nearly three decades of civil war, there is increasing optimism for improvements in education, health, water and sanitation and child protection.

This year alone, UNICEF has helped to:

• Train 8,000 newly recruited female teachers;
• Induct some 4,500 teachers on new teaching methods (curricula and textbooks);
• Provide school materials to 2.5 million children;
• Set up 5,000 community-based schools in rural areas for 220,000 children; 
• Establish 1,300 literacy centres for 33,000 illiterate women;
• Immunise 6.9 million children against polio and provide them with vitamin A supplements;
• Establish five iodised salt plants; and
• Train 100 breastfeeding counsellors.

Donations can be made to UNICEF UK’s General Emergency Fund online at www.unicef.org.uk or by calling 08457 312 312. UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from individuals, businesses, foundations, schools, associations and governments


For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, photos or an interview, please contact:

Shima Islam, UNICEF UK Press Office: Tel +  020 7430 0162




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