Humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains critical UN officials say

Speaking at a UN press briefing in New York, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie said that the most difficult areas for humanitarian agencies to reach were in the south, but also around Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz in the north.There had been reasonable success, however, in increasing the humanitarian presence in certain key areas, she said. A good working relationship was established with the authorities in Kabul as negotiations continued for the return of internally displaced persons from the capital to areas outside the city.Meanwhile UN international staff have been given the green light to return to Bamiyan in central Afghanistan following a security assessment, a UN spokesman said today in Islamabad. The UN’s Regional Coordinator for Bamiyan was on his way to the area on Thursday, while a 17-member UN survey team to assess support requirements for a possible enhanced UN presence in the region arrived in Islamabad this morning.With much of northern Afghanistan in the grip of winter, UN relief officials today highlighted their concern at the suffering of internally displaced persons, especially children.At least one child and one adult are reportedly dead in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sari-Pul and four children in a camp in Mazar-i-Sharif, according to Hasan Ferdous, a spokesman for the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan. “Some surveys suggest that the nutritional condition of IDPs around Mazar-i-Sharif is quite serious,” he told reporters in Islamabad. “A significant number of people are suffering from severe to moderate malnutrition.”In other news, the rate of return from Iran to western Afghanistan is increasing in the past days, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) reported. Yesterday, a record 2,000 Afghans crossed the Dogharoun border and returned mainly to Herat, bringing to more than 24,000 refugees who have returned since the Taliban’s hold on Herat was broken on 12 November.The agency also appealed again to countries of asylum not to forcibly return refugees, noting that refugees have still been observed fleeing Afghanistan, especially from the southern and eastern parts of the country. More than 2,000 people fleeing for safety were still stranded in no-man’s land at the Chaman border on Wednesday. As for food delivery, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it started to use rail lines from Turkmenistan to ship food to a border town, where it will then be moved to trucks and despatched through Herat directly to provinces in the central west of Afghanistan.Over the next six days, 12,000 tonnes of food will be taken by rail to the border town for onward transhipment, WFP spokesman Lindsey Davies said, estimating that about 436,000 people needed food assistance in the two provinces.WFP has brought in almost half of the amount needed and will continue to give extremely high priority to food deliveries in these provinces by despatching food directly both from its warehouses in Herat and across the border from Turkmenabad, the spokesman said. read more

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Mayors on frontline of battle against climate change – UN

“We have seen that many countries’ mayors have taken the lead in taking practical steps towards containing greenhouse gas emission in urban scenarios,” Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), told reporters at UN Headquarters on the last day of a meeting that focused on sustainable urbanization.“We hope to sign a compact between different networks…representing more than 10,000 cities around the world that have demonstrated already through everyday work how mayors are committed to [combatting] climate change,” Mr. Clos said at a press conference.The Mayors of the cities of Paris and Kingston, Jamaica, and the Vice-President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which hosted the three-day meeting, joined Mr. Clos at an afternoon press conference during which they discussed about how cities can cities can be at the forefront of new initiatives that will help people prepare for impacts of climate change and strengthen their resilience.United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will be convening a climate summit in September when world leaders gather at UN Headquarters for the annual General Assembly meeting, addressed the opening session on Tuesday and applauded the innovative ways that cities are trying to meet the climate challenge.Also at the opening, Michael Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former Mayor of New York City, said because mayors had executive powers, they did not have to wait for Government actions, which enabled cities to play a critical and innovative role in addressing global challenges.According to UN-Habitat, cities are major contributors to climate change: although they cover less than 2 per cent of the earth’s surface, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 per cent of all carbon dioxide and significant amounts of other greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through energy generation, vehicles, industry, and biomass use.At the same time, cities and towns are heavily vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be affected by rising sea levels, increased precipitation, inland floods, more frequent and stronger cyclones and storms, and periods of more extreme heat and cold. The three-day ECOSOC meeting is part of the so-called Integration Segments designed to enhance the coherence of the three pillars of development – economic, environmental and social – in the run up to 2015 when new UN development goals will be established to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which will have run their course. read more

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