Press Briefing by Ariane Quentier Senior Public Information Officer And United Nations Agencies in Afghanistan

UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) have recently begun a Joint Political Rights Verification Campaign and, in coordination with the JEMB meetings, will now begin a series of briefings for candidates and officials on the rights and responsibilities associated with holding a free and fair election in the central region.

The purpose of the briefings is to ensure that candidates understand the rights and principles underpinning the electoral process and the options available to them to register any complaints, should those rights be violated. The meeting will also provide an opportunity to cooperate with provincial officials in order to enhance their role in ensuring a free and fair election.

The Asia Foundation to support theatre performances to inform voters about elections
Since May 12th, Afghan theatre troupes supported by The Asia Foundation(TAF) are performing a play intended to educate about democracy, elections and voting for September 18th elections.

The play, New Hope, focuses on issues that many Afghan communities face –a high crime rate, the need for better health care, roads in need of repair, and others. Its message is that having a representative can help the community have a better life. The play also teaches voters how to choose a candidate who will represent them well.

The troupes are performing throughout Afghanistan and will reach some 29 provinces by the end of their run. Seven troupes of actors and actresses who performed together before the Taliban and regrouped afterward are performing the plays.

Since the beginning of the project and until June 5th, there have been more than 130 performances of New Hope throughout the country, drawing a total audience of 130,000. Last year, ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential elections, The Asia Foundation funded 232 theatre performances. A total of more than 334,000 people attended.

The Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS), an Afghan independent social organization, and Sahara Media and Communication are implementing this project. USAID – the US Agency for International Development – is funding the performances through a cooperative agreement with The Asia Foundation.

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)
to date, 60,408 officers and soldiers have disarmed under the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) Programme. Of this figure, 49,991have entered the reintegration process.

Inters of weapons collection, a total of 34,357 medium and light weapons have been collected from military units that have gone through the DDR Programme.

Meanwhile, on Monday a ceremony was held at the Ministry of Defense to reward commanders who have supported the DDR Programme, and attendees included 33 commanders and the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Finally, teams from the Afghan New Beginnings Programme’ (ANBP) continue to identify suitable locations for weapons collection throughout the country. This follows the government’s decision to give electoral candidates that have links to illegal armed groups the opportunity to voluntarily surrender their weapons, so they can meet the eligibility criteria.

Desertification on the rise in Afghanistan
tomorrow will be the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. In his yearly message, the Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “Desertification is one of the world’s most alarming processes of environmental degradation. It threatens the health and livelihoods of more than one billion people. And each year, desertification and drought cause an estimated $42 billion in lost agricultural production.”

Headed that 2006 will be the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

Desertification is very much threatening Afghanistan and advancing in the northern, western and southern regions, where widespread grazing has reduced vegetation cover and exposed soils to erosion.

Another aggravating factor is the uncontrolled extraction of water resources and deforestation. Officials estimate the amount of forest lost in the last two decades to be 30 per cent. However, local forest officers suggest the true figure lies between 50 and 70 per cent in provinces like Paktya,Khost and Paktika.

In addition to desertification, the incidence of drought has also risen sharply in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and more specifically in the last6 years – a trend that might never be reversed. Conditions in large parts of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimrod provinces have deteriorated dramatically and some of these areas will never be able to support their former human populations again.

Unfortunately, data is still lacking which makes it extremely difficult to accurately assess and respond. However, if in 1950 an estimated 94 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, by 2000 this figure had fallen to 78 per cent, with urban populations rising largely in response to drought, although also in response to conflict.