Donkeys and satellite phones pave the way for Afghan elections
Fri Aug 27, 5:28 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Organising the first presidential election in Afghanistan, a country largely without power, roads or literacy, has required a leap of imagination that has encompassed everything from donkeys to satellite phones.
"Take all the roads out of France, remove the phone network, and the plumbing, add in 80 percent illiteracy, and you get a picture of what we are dealing with," said David Avery, chief of operations for joint Afghan-UN electoral commission.
In fact, Afghanistan is the size of France, Belgium and Switzerland combined, and much of the country is mountainous and remote and threatened by political violence.
And the electorate has little idea of what is at stake in the historic October 9 polls.
"It is much more than an election. Even things as simple as translating words like democracy: there is even a dispute over that," said Silvana Puizana, head of civic and voter education for Afghanistan's electoral commission Joint Electoral Management Body.
From the collection of millions of voter registration cards to how people will mark the ballot papers -- every little detail must be thought out.
For instance "you are not expecting people to have pens," to mark their ballot papers so millions of pens had to be ordered, Puizana said.
The commission also had to make elaborate arrangements in order to make sure that people could get to polling stations.
Rather than attach voters to particular districts voters will be allowed to turn up at any polling station in order to make it easier for people to cast their ballots.
Preventing people voting several times has been another headache. Already more than the estimated 9.8 million eligible voters the United Nations thought were in the country have registered to vote.
Voter registration numbers now stand at more than 10.5 million, according to UN numbers from August 21.
Voters will have a thumb marked with indelible ink to circumvent the problem of incomplete electoral registers.
But solving one problem created another: the ink marks could attract the attention of the Taliban and other militants bent on disrupting the election and endanger voters.
After many consultations, the ink-mark system was retained, for want of anything better.
"There is a risk for everyone in this process," said Puizana.
The ballot paper was also carefully thought out. To compensate for illiteracy, the photographs of the 18 candidates are printed at the side of each square to be marked.
Once the design had been decided on, the organisers had to put out an international tender because Afghanistan lacked the technology to produce them.
Finally 20 million ballot papers will come from Canada and 30,000 white plastic ballot boxes have already arrived from Denmark.
The manpower is also enormous, the United Nations will recruit 125,000-130,000 people to man polling stations.
Once voting is complete, the massive logistical task of transporting the ballot papers lies ahead. Papers must be transported to counting stations from the 5,000 nationwide polling sites to ensure the security of the vote count.
"The geography, the topography and the size of the country does not make it easy," explained commission spokesman Aykut Tavsel.
"It is a possibility that some ballots are going to be transported by donkeys where there are no roads, where horses cannot go and where there is no way to carry them by helicopter," he said.
Once the count is done, most of the results will be e-mailed, faxed or communicated by satellite telephone because of the lack of fixed lines.
If there is a run-off election in the event of no clear winner in the first round, the second vote could come in the middle of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan.
"People have to walk to the sites and they might be too weak to walk. They focus on the spiritual part of their lives, they might think it is inappropriate," said Tavsel.
The electoral commission is not even looking at the safety of polls although 12 electoral workers have been killed since May, and 33 others injured, leaving that challenge to the Afghan authorities.
"You have to balance security and transparency. Are you going to search every voter?" Puizana said.
"It's more important that the final result is accepted," she said.
And that could be a much harder challenge in a country which has endured years of war between rival militias hungry for power.
Afghan voting number puzzle
By Martin Huckerby in Kabul BBC News / Friday, 27 August, 2004
Fears are growing that the numbers of people registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections simply do not add up.
When the elections were announced there were plenty of people standing in the way.
The Taleban were busily intimidating would-be voters, while other conservatives bitterly opposed the idea of women taking part.
And all the time, the violence that President Hamid Karzai's government struggles to deal with continued.
'Achievement for democracy'
But that has not stopped many ordinary Afghans from demonstrating an enthusiasm for elections which puts to shame the level of interest in long-established democracies elsewhere in the world.
On 17 August, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that the high rate of voter registration - more than 9.9m already enrolled - showed the political isolation of groups responsible for violence.
What he did not mention was that the number registered already exceeds the estimated total of eligible voters for the whole country.
Originally UN officials estimated there were 9.8m eligible adults, and as the percentage registered climbed ever higher, the Afghan government and US leaders loudly praised this as an achievement for democracy.
When the total reached 9.9m UN officials in Kabul hastily upped the estimated total of voters to 10.5 million, arguing that, with no accurate census, the original figure could be up to a million out - due to the effects of war, civil strife and mass migration.
But the figure is still increasing. UN Kabul spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said on 23 August that the total after registration was more than 10.35m, and data was expected to continue arriving for at least a couple of weeks.
Only a little arithmetic shows the figures are dubious.
Only 42% of those registered are women. That means some 750,000 women are not registered.
The shortfall of women means the only way the 10m-plus figure for registered voters can be accurate is if every single male in the country has registered - at least once.
And that ignores an estimated one third of a million unregistered people in conflict-ridden parts of the south and south-east of Afghanistan.
So it is painfully evident that the registration process has been seriously flawed.
There are constant reports of individuals brandishing two or more voting cards, usually announcing they have acquired extra ones as an investment.
The more optimistic hope to make $100 or more per card by selling them - serious money in a country where most people earn less than that per month.
One tale - unconfirmed - even has a woman claiming to have gained 40 voting cards by turning up repeatedly for registration with her identity concealed under an all-enveloping burqa.
In the mujahideen-dominated Panjshir Valley, the number of cards issued is two and a half times the estimated number of voters.
Mr de Almeida e Silva admitted there had been multiple registering, but argued that many countries had problems with first-time elections.
He also noted it was hard to tell whether voters were under-age, as almost no Afghans had identity cards or birth certificates.
When it comes to polling on 9 October, voters will have a finger marked with indelible ink in an attempt to prevent fraud.
But the success of those acquiring extra cards suggests similar ingenuity will be employed at the polling stations.
There is a danger that the inflated registration figures will become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: if officials claim more than 10m people have registered, then they may feel under some pressure to deliver similar numbers of votes on election day.
And there are those who will be happy to help - notably warlords who have already been reported using their militias to ensure local people vote in the required fashion.
The pity is that there obviously is much enthusiasm for elections among the population at large.
But there needs to be rigorous examination of voter registration plus stringent controls at the 5,000 polling centres - otherwise an election which probably will be a genuine achievement for democracy could be marred by serious fraud.
The writer is a British journalist in Kabul training staff for a new national news agency.
Afghan Rivals Gang Up on Karzai, Seek a Champion
Thu Aug 26, 2004 12:04 PM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's rivals Thursday challenged him to quit the presidential race or face them in a public debate, even as they searched for a viable challenger to unite behind.
Karzai's opponents believe the odds are unfairly stacked in his favor for an election on Oct. 9 that marks the climax of Afghanistan's political transition, following the overthrow of the hard-line Islamist Taliban militia by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
"Since Karzai is abusing his position of power and monetary resources for the election, I and the council (of opposition candidates) support Karzai's resignation," Hamayoun Shah Asifi told a news conference flanked by 14 other challengers or their representatives.
For the past two weeks, Karzai has ignored calls for him to step down, arguing there is no constitutional reason for him to quit a position he has held since being put at the head of an interim government with U.S. support after the Taliban's fall.
About 18,000 U.S.-led troops are in Afghanistan chasing remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden. A smooth victory for the U.S.-backed Karzai would give President Bush a boost ahead of his re-election bid in November, analysts say.
Thursday, Karzai's rivals dared him to either quit or face them in public debate under the tent of a Loya Jirga, a traditional grand council, to justify why he should fight the election as an incumbent.
But candidates told Reuters they were no longer considering a mass withdrawal from the race to protest Karzai's running as the incumbent.
Latif Pedram, an ethnic Tajik and former journalist who returned from exile in France to contest the vote, told Reuters the plan was to challenge Karzai's incumbency through the Supreme Court, launch a mass protest and finally ask allies in Karzai's Cabinet to quit.
Powerful ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara military commanders who fought the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban in later years fear being squeezed out if Karzai, a member of the majority Pashtun ethnic group, is elected.
Some see Karzai cozying up to moderate elements in the Taliban, most of whom were also Pashtuns, to heal old wounds and to broaden his appeal among the majority group.
Pedram said ethnic and regional leaders plan to meet soon to see if they can find a mutually acceptable candidate to unite behind.
"The majority of candidates agree they should try to present one candidate," he told Reuters after Thursday's meeting.
Pedram said among those looking for an alternative to Karzai were the powerful governor of western Herat province, Ismail Khan and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, both of whom are Tajiks, ethnic Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq.
Interview: Top Analyst Barnett Rubin Says Pakistan Is Letting Taliban Survive
By Ron Synovitz / Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Islamabad's recent efforts in the war on terrorism have focused on Al-Qaeda fighters. But now there are growing calls from Western diplomats, the Afghan government and the United Nations for Pakistan to rein in Taliban militants who have fled from Afghanistan into Pakistan since late 2001.
Prague, 26 August 2004 -- Barnett Rubin -- the director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University -- is among many South Asia analysts who think Pakistan's security forces are intentionally overlooking the presence of Taliban militants on their territory.
Most experts agree that Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency helped create the Taliban and gave it the military and financial support it needed to take control over most of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Islamabad has repeatedly denied those allegations and insists that it cut all ties with the Taliban when it joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the attacks 11 September 2001.
But like many independent analysts, Rubin insists that Pakistan's security services have fostered religious fundamentalism for years in order to promote Islamabad's foreign-policy goals. He said the key motivations include strategic concerns about India, as well as the dormant "Pashtunistan" question -- that is, the fear in Islamabad that ethnic Pashtun nationalists might take power in Kabul and make territorial claims on Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun border regions.
"Supporting some antigovernment forces in Afghanistan is something that Pakistan has done for decades in order to have some leverage over the government of Afghanistan," Rubin said. "They did have a long-term commitment toward supporting ethnic Pashtun religious extremists in Afghanistan in order to assure that an Afghan government would side with Pakistan against India and would not raise the issue of the Pashtun territories. [That's because] the Pashtun Islamists -- unlike the Pashtun nationalists -- do not support that kind of ethnic issue against a fellow Muslim country."
Senior Western diplomats in Kabul told "The New York Times" this week that Pakistan's security services are allowing Taliban fighters to operate training camps in Pakistan and cross back into Afghanistan to conduct terrorist attacks aimed at undermining presidential elections there in October.
Pakistan's army calls that allegation "ridiculous." Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Akram told the UN Security Council yesterday that his country has taken extraordinary efforts to safeguard its border with Afghanistan, including the deployment of 75,000 troops.
Rubin agrees with authorities in Islamabad who argue that Pakistan's military does not control many parts of the tribal regions near the border. But Rubin said there are other reasons Taliban militants are not being arrested in Pakistan.
"The Pakistani military is moving against Al-Qaeda, [but] they're not doing anything against the Taliban. Most of the Taliban activities are not in the tribal territories," Rubin said. "They are in the city of Quetta. They are in Balochistan. They are in areas that are firmly under the control of the Pakistan government. Therefore, Pakistan has no credibility. They've been supplied with information about the exact location of various major Taliban leaders. And they have done nothing. Instead, whenever there is pressure on [Pakistan] about the Taliban, they arrest more Al-Qaeda people -- meaning people from Arab countries or from small extremist groups. But they do not move against the Taliban."
Rubin said that Pakistan is not trying to undermine Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government or create a new Taliban regime. But he believes that elements within the government or security services want to use Taliban militants for future leverage against pro-Indian officials in Kabul.
"They do not believe that the United States and the rest of the Western countries are going to stay in Afghanistan. They believe that it is quite possible -- maybe a year after the U.S. presidential election [in November] -- these countries will start drawing down their forces and abandon Afghanistan again," Rubin said. "And therefore, they believe it is inevitable that there will be another power struggle in Afghanistan in which various regional powers will try to position their allies within the government and within the society. They don't want to cut their ties to those who may be ready to defend their interest in Afghanistan when that struggle resumes again."
Rubin said the economic issues discussed during Karzai's two-day visit to Islamabad this week could eventually act as an important counterbalance to the policies of Pakistan's security services.
"In the past, the Pakistani military saw Afghanistan only as a potential security threat or a potential security asset. Now, Pakistan's business community -- which is becoming more assertive -- is seeing Afghanistan as a major opportunity," Rubin said. "They are starting to put forward the idea that a stable, reconstructed Afghanistan is strongly in Pakistan's interests because of the economic implications, regardless of the political coloration or ethnic composition of the government of the day in Kabul."
But Rubin concluded that Pakistan's security forces will continue to have the final word for now because there is no real public input into Pakistan's security policies and the military is not subject to any kind of civilian control or oversight.
Quaid's concept of Pakistan
By M.H. Askari Dawn (Pakistan) August 27, 2004 OPINION
The participants of a seminar in Peshawar on democracy and good governance only stated the obvious when they maintained that Pakistan had failed to emerge as the state visualized by its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Indeed, there could be nothing more remote than the concept outlined by Jinnah at the outset.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 - four days before Pakistan was proclaimed as an independent state - he explicitly said that he expected the homeland of the Muslims to adhere to the concept of democracy and to make no distinction among its citizens on the basis of caste, creed or social status.
In reality, over the years since Jinnah's death and the assassination of prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan has been anything but what the Quaid visualized.
But for short breathing spells of democracy, by Pakistan has been ruled by autocrats, dictators and usurpers, motivated move by their own whims than by any constitution.
As it was said in no uncertain terms at the Peshawar seminar, successive civil and military rulers have managed over the years to completely throw overboard the ideals outlined by the Quaid and almost throughout its existence the state has been marked by distinctions of caste, creed and social status and democracy has remained largely elusive.
Not much may be known about the Liberal Forum Pakistan, which sponsored the Peshawar seminar, but what it identified as the basic malaise behind Pakistan's political failure can hardly be disputed.
It aptly maintained that those who have come to the helm of Pakistan's leadership have been more concerned about preserving their own position and much less about how Pakistan is governed.
The constant theme of Jinnah's statements and speeches that Pakistan would not be some kind of a theocracy but a modern progressive state has also been all but forgotten. Responsible leaders in Pakistan have even pretended that the speech of August 11, 1947 was never made.
There was even an attempt to delete the speech from the collection of Jinnah's speeches. A minister once tried to publish an official collection without it. All this could have been laughable but for the fact that it has serious implications for Quaid's legacy.
What seems to bother the present generation of Pakistani politicians is the unqualified stress that Jinnah laid on what may be called the secular values of governance which he hoped would be adopted by Pakistan.
In his inaugural speech, he exhorted the people to rise above "the angularities of the majority and minority communities - the Hindu community and the Muslim community - and hoped that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state..."
While one may argue that the construction of his statement is not as clear as it might have been, there is no doubt that what the Quaid preferred was a secular dispensation for the future constitution of Pakistan.
His biographer, Stanley Wolpert, has observed that what he said suggested a remarkable reversal, almost as if the Quaid was reverting to his old image of "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity" which is how the great nationalist leader, Mrs Sarojini Naidu, had once described him. Wolpert's observation is that "his (Quaid's) mind was racing too swiftly for logical coherence."
However, a significant section of Pakistani leadership would have wanted Jinnah not to have made these remarks at all and appear uncomfortable whenever these words are recalled.
It is significant that a great deal else that Jinnah said in the same speech and is a challenge to the traditional values of the people, is hardly ever regarded as controversial.
For instance he said "Black marketing is another ruse... A citizen who does black marketing commits, I think, a greater crime than the biggest and most grievous of crimes.... I think they ought to be very severely punished because they undermine the entire system of control... and cause wholesale starvation and even death." In fact black marketing is a way of life with quite a significant section of the Pakistani society.
Jinnah also condemned the evil of nepotism and jobbery and said that "this evil must be crushed relentlessly." However, jobbery and nepotism are generally regarded as part of the art of governance. With equal severity Jinnah condemned the interference of bureaucracy in the governance of the state. Pakistan is hardly ever free of they evil.
It is sometimes suggested that Jinnah and Iqbal in their quest for partition were inspired by an idea floated by Choudhury Rahmat Ali and some other students in a pamphlet published in January 1933.
However, as Prof Khalid bin Sayeed has pointed out in his "Pakistan: The Formative Phase", the idea of forming a separate state in India was mooted as early as December 1883 by a British civil servant, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, who suggested that "in his view practically all the provinces of Northern India should be placed under Muslim Government and those of southern India under Hindu government", which would mean that the British would continue as the controlling power drawing their support from the British troops stationed in each of the provinces.
Sayeed maintains that "this created a feeling of uneasiness among the Muslims as regards their share of power." Muslim reaction to the Nehru Report in 1928 also has what Sayed calls "another glimpse of Muslim apprehensions and their separatist tendencies."
In his presidential address at the Allahabad session of the All India Muslim League in December 1930, Iqbal presented a conception which Sayeed says was not only clear but also comprehensive in the sense that it was "based on both geographical and ideological factors."
Iqbal proposed that Punjab, the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan should be amalgamated in a single state "with self-government, within British Empire or without British Empire." He regarded this proposed consolidation of "North-West Indian Muslim state as the final destiny of the Muslims."
Iqbal went on to explain that there need be no fear that the "creation of autonomous Muslim states would mean the introduction of a religious rule in such states." As Sayeed has quoted him, he went on to assert that in certain cases a Muslim state could adopt such a flexible approach as to impose no restrictions on the realization of money loaned.
Iqbal also said rather significantly that the formation of a consolidated Muslim state means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power, for Islam to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism is forced to give it, to mobilize its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times.
It is sometimes argued that Iqbal did not demand a complete partition of India, between Muslim India (Pakistan) and Hindu India (Hindustan) and this demand was formally formulated only in the 1940 Muslim League resolution.
The word 'Pakistan' was certainly coined by Choudhury Rahmat Ali when he published his pamphlet, Now Or Never in 1933. The pamphlet was also co-signed by Mohammad Aslam Khan, shaikh Mohammad Sadiq and Inayatullah Khan.
'Pakistan' as conceived by Rahmat Ali was intended to demand for the recognition of the Muslims of five provinces and the name of the state as proposed by him represented the first letters of the provinces viz: Punjab, Afghania (NWFP), Kashmir, Sindh and Balochistan.
The authors of the pamphlet insisted that their scheme was basically different from the scheme proposed by Iqbal. the British government found Rahmat Ali's proposal worthy of an enquiry by a parliamentary committee which among others included Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who had ruled Punjab at the time of the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali was asked for his opinion about the scheme. His response was "As far as I know it is only a students' scheme, no responsible people have put it forward."
When some newspaper comments suggested that it was the same scheme as that of Iqbal, the latter promptly contradicted it. In fact, the philosopher-poet wrote to several of his friends in India and in England to write to newspapers making it clear that he (Iqbal) had nothing to do with the idea as put forward by Rahmat Ali.
Pakistan border camp closes; all Afghan residents return home
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
BASSU CAMP, Pakistan, Aug 26 (UNHCR) - A final convoy of trucks carrying refugees who chose to repatriate from Bassu camp rumbled toward Afghanistan this week, the fourth closure this year of a camp established by the UN refugee agency to house Afghans who fled the 2001 war that unseated the Taliban.
All 5,000 residents of Bassu camp, members of the minority Hazara ethnic group, decided to move back to Afghanistan when UNHCR announced that assistance to the "new" camps established as an emergency measure less than three years ago - food, water, health clinics, schools and other support - would cease on September 1.
"This is a very important moment when all Bassu refugees have decided to go back to Afghanistan," said Masti Notz, head of the UNHCR sub-office in Peshawar. "They are a minority group going mainly to Hazarajat and Ghazni province. They will be a part of their country, they will be part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan."
A total of 190,000 refugees in the "new" camps were offered the option to return to Afghanistan with enhanced repatriation assistance or to relocate on their own to the older refugee camps in Pakistan. The camp closures so far leave only a few hundred families in four "new" camps in Pakistan's North West Frontier province (NWFP) and a rapidly dwindling population in the six "new" camps of Balochistan province.
UNHCR, the World Food Programme and the government of Pakistan issued a joint announcement in July that all UNHCR assistance to the "new" camps would end on September 1. The camps, all but one located very near the border with Afghanistan, were expensive to maintain and faced increasing security problems.
The majority of residents of the camps in NWFP have chosen repatriation, with a minority relocating to the old camps where assistance on education, health, sanitation and water will continue. However, most residents of new camps in Balochistan have so far remained in the camps.
In addition to Bassu camp, the twin camps at nearby Asgharo are now completely empty. Only five families remain in Old Bagzai camp, with UNHCR protection staff working with them on their relocation to a safe site.
By the end of Wednesday, 35,246 residents of the new camps in NWFP had chosen to repatriate. In addition to the assistance provided by UNHCR to all Afghans returning to their homeland, those returning from the new camps are receiving a tent and three months of food assistance on arrival in Afghanistan.
Those returning from NWFP are already more than half of the 65,000 who had been registered in the camps. Many of the remaining number are thought to have already relocated to the old camps but the precise number will become clear only with the end of assistance next week.
Another camp in NWFP, Shalman, was closed earlier this year before the decision was made to end assistance in all the "new" camps. The majority of those refugees also chose repatriation over relocation elsewhere in Pakistan.
Departures from the camps in Balochistan have been much slower, although the numbers asking for repatriation assistance from "new" camps have risen sharply in the past week to reach 24,000 so far this year.
UNHCR has assisted more than 2.2 million Afghans to return from Pakistan to their homeland since March 2002. This includes more than 300,000 who have returned this year.
UNHCR News Stories
UN completes largest de-worming campaign in history for 4.5 million Afghan children
Source: World Food Programme / August 26, 2004
KABUL - The United Nations World Food Programme announced today that it had completed the largest de-worming campaign ever undertaken, reaching over 4.5 million schoolchildren in Afghanistan.
The campaign was carried out by WFP in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and supported by the Afghan Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education. It was the first time that the UN had undertaken a nation-wide de-worming programme. More than 90 percent of the targeted five million 6-12 year-old children received treatment.
"This is truly an incredible achievement," said Michael Jones, WFP Deputy Country Director for Afghanistan. "Not only because it has been organised for the first time, but also because it has been done in Afghanistan, a country whose needs are as huge as its challenges."
The cost of the campaign came to some US$476,000 - just over 10 US cents per child treated. "For this tiny sum, the lives of these children can be totally transformed," Jones said.
After more than 20 years of war, which left much of Afghanistan's infrastructure and educational system in shatters, the challenges of covering the remotest corners of this very inaccessible country seemed insurmountable.
However, when a baseline study carried out in 2003 showed that almost 50 percent of Afghan schoolchildren were infected by single or multiple types of intestinal worms - with the rate as high as 75 percent at one school in Kabul - the Afghan Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with WFP, WHO and UNICEF, decided to respond. The treatment is completely harmless to children not infected.
The campaign was launched in March this year, with the aim of reducing worm infections and by doing so improving children's physical and intellectual growth. This would greatly improve the effectiveness of WFP school feeding programmes, which are targeted at more than one million Afghan schoolchildren in 2004.
In the developing world, intestinal worms rank first among the causes of disease in infants and school-age children. Worldwide, more than 400 million children are known to be affected.
Worm infections can cause a wide range of pathological conditions, including stunting and weight loss, reduced physical fitness, increased susceptibility to other infections, learning and cognitive deficiencies, impaired micronutrient status and anaemia - and can be fatal.
The children were treated at around 7,000 schools throughout Afghanistan - almost 90 percent of the primary schools in the country, including official government-run, non-official or home-based schools, as well as Islamic madrasas.
The drug distribution was combined with a health awareness campaign, in line with findings of the baseline study showing shortcomings in basic hygiene-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviour among children.
Through radio spots, leaflets, posters, banners and training of teachers and government officials, awareness was raised among caretakers and community leaders, as well primary school-age children and their parents about the risks of worms and ways to prevent infection.
A follow-up campaign, targeting urban centres, is scheduled for November 2004.
Nearly 50 percent of the funding for the campaign came from Canada, which donated US$230,000. The remainder was made up with funds from the three UN agencies, with WFP as the lead agency.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.
Visit our website: www.wfp.org
For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@example.org):
Maarten Roest, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Afghanistan, Mob. +93 (0)70 282547
Brenda Barton, Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132602, Mob. +39-3472582217
Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel. +44-20-75929292, Mob. +44-7968-008474
Christiane Berthiaume, WFP/Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564, Mob. +41-79-2857304
Trevor Rowe, WFP/NY, Tel. +1-212-9635196, Mob. +1-646-8241112, e-mail: email@example.com
Jordan Dey, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149, Mob. +1-202-4223383
The process: How Afghan poppies become heroin
Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004
[This article is one of a series offering an insight into the impact of the opium trade on the development of post-conflict Afghanistan and the surrounding region. To access the complete web special, 'Bitter-Sweet Harvest: Afghanistan's New War', click here: http://www.irinnews.org/webspecials/Opium/default.asp]
ANKARA, 25 August (IRIN) - The botanical name for opium poppy is 'Papaver somniferum'. According to historians it was Genghis Khan, the 13th century Mongol conqueror, who first introduced the plant to Afghanistan.
Poppy is grown mainly by small farmers on small plots in remote regions of Afghanistan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted a survey in late 2003, interviewing more than 1,000 farmers in different areas. The survey found that the average land holding of poppy-cultivating farmers is just over two hectares, of which they plant about one third with poppy. The survey also showed that four out of five poppy farmers owned their land and made their own decisions about what to plant. However, in the southern provinces, the findings suggested a higher degree of large land holdings controlled by drug lords, who use outside labourers to work their fields.
Poppy flourishes in dry, warm climates on irrigated or rain-fed plots of land. It has higher drought-resistant qualities than most crops, particularly wheat.
The planting cycle is six to seven months and is very labour-intensive at certain periods: as the poppy establishes itself much weeding is required, and labour is again needed during the harvest period. Approximately three months after the poppy seeds are planted, brightly-coloured flowers bloom at the tips of greenish, tubular stems. Normally in Afghanistan these flowers are white and purple, but can also be red. As the petals fall away, they expose a spherical or oval-shaped seed capsule. Inside the pod is an opaque, milky sap. This sap is opium in its natural form.
When the poppy is ready for harvest, in the final weeks of its cycle, the sap is extracted by slitting the capsule vertically in parallel strokes with a special tool fitted with small blades. As the sap oozes out, it turns darker and thicker as it is exposed to the sun, forming a brownish-black gum. A farmer collects the gum with a home-made scraping implement, and normally wraps the subsequent balls, or lumps of opium in plastic.
The custom in Afghanistan is that each capsule is slit six or seven times, over a period of days or weeks, before the internal juices are exhausted. When the opium gum or paste has been collected, the hundreds of seeds remaining in each capsule are processed by farmers for oil. Only a fraction of the seeds from each harvest is needed for subsequent harvests; the remaining seeds are crushed into an edible oil. Farmers in the northeastern province of Badakshan told IRIN that from 10 kg of seed they could process 5 kg of rich oil, which they either sold or used for household consumption. In addition, the dried stalks and empty pods are collected in sheaves and can be used as animal fodder later in the year.
In some cases opium is traded in markets with minimal efforts to hide the transactions, but most opium appears to be purchased directly from the farmers by buyers and dealers. In a range of complex credit agreements based on advance-sale of opium harvests, many farmers are already committed to particular dealers and merchants by the time they accumulate their yield.
Then the opium enters the black market. A merchant or broker buys the packages for transport to a morphine 'refinery'. According to author Alfred W. McCoy in 'The Politics of Heroin', most traffickers do their morphine refining close to the poppy fields, since compact morphine bricks are much easier to smuggle than bundles of pungent, jelly-like opium. At the refinery, which may be little more than a small house or shack equipped with oil drums, the opium is mixed with lime in boiling water. A white band of morphine forms on the surface, while a precipitate of organic waste sinks to the bottom. The morphine is drawn off, reheated with ammonia, filtered and boiled again until it is reduced to a brown paste. Poured into moulds and dried in the sun, it is now morphine base. Morphine base can be smoked in a pipe or is ready for further processing into heroin.
The first to process heroin was C.R. Wright, an English researcher who unwittingly synthesised heroin (diacetylmorphine) in 1874, when he boiled morphine and a common chemical, acetic anhydride, for some hours. The modern technique entails a complicated series of steps in a well-organised 'laboratory'. The final product is a fluffy, white powder known in the trade as 'number four heroin'.
Up to the end of the 1980s, virtually all heroin sold on the streets was heavily diluted and was rarely more than 10 percent pure. Purity has risen sharply since the mid 1990s, routinely hitting 50 to 60 percent, as dealers have tried to expand their market beyond those addicts who inject heroin into their veins with hypodermic needles. Higher purity means consumption methods can include inhalation and smoking - methods which avoid the threat of AIDS through use of intravenous needles.
On average every 10 mt of raw opium reduces to 1 mt of heroin. According to UNODC statistics, in 2003 approximately 3,600 mt of heroin on the world market originated from Afghanistan, representing 75 percent of global consumption. A quarter of a million Afghan farming families, cultivating an estimated 80,000 hectares in 28 provinces, contributed to the production.
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