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International Peace Day 2008

Afghan Update Peace Edition 2008/ By SRSG, Kai Eide

Wednesday 17 September 2008

I am delighted to be able to introduce this special Peace Day edition of UNAMA’s Afghan Update magazine. The United Nations has a long history in Afghanistan and a deep friendship with the Afghan people that has remained strong over many years.

We recognise the overwhelming demand for peace from the Afghan people and share this desire to build a peaceful future for the country.

International Peace Day on 21 September every year is a chance for the world to come together and ask for a global ceasefire.

In Afghanistan it is our chance to reaffirm our commitment to peace and to remind ourselves that we must constantly refocus our activities in the service of peace for the Afghan people.

For too long the Afghan people have lived under the shadow of fear and violence.

Peace is Afghanistan’s greatest need and it is the highest calling of the United Nations. It defines our purpose and it is the bedrock from which we can encourage development, defend human rights and build a better future for all of Afghanistan’s peoples.

With just one day of peace we can indeed achieve so much more for those who need our help the most.

During last year’s Peace Day campaign the UN was able to gain access to vaccinate children, deliver essential food and carry out life saving humanitarian work for Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities.

Cynics may argue “What good is just one day?” To them I say building peace always begins with just one day.

Building peace is a process and not an event.

If we can start with one day and build on that success then imagine what can be achieved with even more hours, days, weeks and months of peace.

This year I pledge that the whole UN family of agencies in Afghanistan will recommit to serving the Afghan people and ensuring that those in the most need are never forgotten.

At the same time I call on everyone in Afghanistan to respect the human rights of every individual, to allow the safe passage of humanitarian aid, and most especially to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.

As we build this momentum for peace I want you to ask yourself: “What am I doing for Peace?”

And ask those around you: “What are you doing for Peace?”

Yours,

Kai Eide

SRSG

Afghanistan stars in major international peace film

The people of Afghanistan are staring in a major international film on Peace Day 2007. Despite all the troubles of the last 30 years ordinary people took to the streets to demand peace.

The people of Afghanistan are staring in a major international film on Peace Day 2007.Despite all the troubles of the last 30 years ordinary people took to the streets to demand peace: children were vaccinated, schools were painted, food was delivered, Jirgas, Shuras and meetings for peace were held and demonstrations calling for peace were staged. And this year in 2008 the people of Afghanistan will once again be stepping up and calling out: “What are you doing for peace?”

The huge momentum and progress in Afghanistan last year was documented by international film maker and producer Jeremy Gilley. Jeremy started the Peace One Day foundation which secured 21 September as the International Day of Peace. The United Nations General Assembly passed a special resolution in 2001 marking the day as one of global ceasefire.

In 2007 the British Hollywood movie star Jude Law travelled to Afghanistan as an Ambassador for Peace One Day. In Afghanistan Jude is known for his starring role in the film Enemy at the Gates. The film was one of the first to be dubbed in Afghanistan by a private TV station following the fall of the Taliban as huge numbers of media outlets tasted the new freedom in the country. However despite his role in the film as a Stalingrad sniper in World War Two, Jude has become committed to the ideals of a Peace Day. Speaking in Kabul last year he said: “I think the message of peace is for everyone. The message has always been the same, which is to recognize and celebrate Peace Day, a single day. Obviously the hope is that this will affect the other 364 days of the year. Let’s mark this one day, let’s start with this one day, because it is a call for action. The message should go around the world – not to a specific country.”

This year at the major Cannes International Film Festival in the south of France Jeremy’s film on peace, The Day After Peace was premiered. The film charts Jeremy’s efforts over the last ten years to persuade senior United Nations officials, governments, the Arab League, Nobel Peace Prize Winners and others to call for a day of peace on 21 September and to mark it effectively. Jeremy realizes the potential of getting the stars on board and enlists actors Angelina Jolie and Jude Law as well as Coca-Cola to help him campaign for peace. The film tracks the trials and tribulations of trying to get the world community actually interested and committed to a day of peace.

Events in Afghanistan last year are undoubtedly the highlight of the film. There were more than 80 activities in Afghanistan alone where 1.4 million children were vaccinated against polio. In 2007 over 100 million people were active on Peace Day in 192 countries, including life-saving initiatives in 14 countries.

From tense and difficult beginnings Peace Day has now become a real live worldwide event every year. In partnership with the United Nations in Afghanistan the Peace One Day film shows Afghans at their best, mobilizing at all levels and calling for peace. At the same time the film centre stages Afghanistan participating in a major worldwide event, placing the country at the centre of the world’s attention for all the best reasons.

“If we are to move from a culture of war to a culture of peace then we will have to unite around the most fundamental issue that humanity faces – the protection of each other and our environment. 21 September is the starting point. Individuals can make a difference. By working together there will be Peace One Day,” says Jeremy Gilley, the Founder of Peace One Day.

What are you doing for peace?

Ask yourself this question: “What am I doing for Peace?” Ask your friends, family and neighbours: “What are you doing for Peace?”And those two questions make up the central theme of this year’s Peace Day: the aim is to get a total ceasefire, for twenty four hours, across Afghanistan and the world.

Of course your friends will joke and laugh and say there’s no point and nothing will happen and you as an individual can’t change the situation. But last year Afghanistan led the world in activities and calls for peace.

The objective of a day of peace will only be achieved if there is very wide support. Support is always growing, with multiple groups and organizations involved. For so many groups and people to be working together towards the goal of peace is already a partial success. And its better to be involved and do something rather than letting others take the lead.

Last year thousands of children from insecure areas were vaccinated against life threatening diseases and hundreds of tons of food were delivered to Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities proving that even with one day we can make a difference.

Peace is a process not an event. Let’s start with one day and turn it into two days and then three days and then more as time goes on.

What is Peace Day?

In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution establishing an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on 21 September, marked each year across the globe.

The day provides an opportunity for all of us, regardless of our nationality, faith or background to unite and demonstrate our commitment towards peace. Peace Day offers us a chance to recognize what can be achieved even if we have only twenty four hours of peace.

What can you do to support the Peace Day?
The United Nations in Afghanistan and all its agencies, partners and many other organizations and individuals are joining hands for peace. We’re calling on all those working for peace in Afghanistan to come together and mobilize in a massive call for peace. Last year there were a tremendous variety of activities: groups joined together in Jirgas for peace; school children painted their schools in the name of peace; civil society and NGOs mobilized their members at various activities for peace; and many others just took it upon themselves to organize an event or activity or to promote peace in their neighbourhood by hanging out blue flags.

This year there’s no reason to sit back; there are even more reasons to get involved and join hands together for peace. Whatever small difference is made can be real change when all the efforts are added together.

De-mining for peace?

By Homayon Khoram

It’s the end of July, the hottest month in Bamyan, the central province in Afghanistan, famous for its giant Buddha statues and amazing lakes. Dar-e-Azdeha (Dragon’s Valley) is a place near the city of Bamyan where there are no trees and no vegetation - only a rugged terrain with stones and boulders scattered around.

A slight breeze cools Sayed Ibrar Sadat who is busy clearing a landmine. He knows the price of a mistake is very high: his first mistake could be his last.

But he’s confident. He works slowly and with extreme caution. After a while he takes a break, drinks water and gets back to work. Wearing a helmet with anti-blast glasses, he cautiously cleans the area around a landmine he discovered half an hour ago.

It took him 50 minutes to secure the landmine, unlike the first time when he started working as a de-miner when it took him two hours. “I remember very well my first day, 14 years ago, when I first discovered a mine,” Sayed Ibrar said. “It took me a long time and I was sweating while clearing the mine.”

Although he was injured while clearing a landmine he’s never thought of changing his profession. “I was clearing a landmine when it exploded and injured my right hand and parts of my body,” added Sayed Ibrar. But he returned to the squad of de-miners as soon as he recovered from his injuries.

Sayed Ibrar was 18 when he first joined Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), an Afghan NGO. His main motive for joining the dangerous career of de-mining was a love of his country: “It was painful to see young children maimed as a result of landmines. I thought there is no better cause than serving your country and making it safe for innocent children. That is why I joined ATC,” said Sayed Ibrar.

Sayed Ibrar is not alone in this battle against landmines. There are 23 mine clearing agencies in Afghanistan with around 8400 personnel, 5000 of whom are de-miners.

The head of mine action in the ancient province of Bamyan, Abdul Qader Qayoumi, joined the Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) 17 years ago. Although he holds a masters degree in law and political sciences he choose his future profession when he was a young boy.

When the Soviet Union’s Red Army dropped bombs on his village in Logar province he was a school student. Among the bombs there were huge time bombs of 35 and 70 kilograms. The villagers couldn’t wait as they were worried the time bombs could go off at any moment so they decided to carry the bombs out of their village before they exploded. The first bomb was successfully transferred out of the village but the second went off while being carried.

“I cannot forget that incident in which 15 villagers were killed instantly, my future career was decided in that incident,” said Abdul Qader.

“Now I don’t imagine myself sitting in an office or running a business in the capital Kabul,” he added. “It is boring for me and I want to do something worthwhile and something I can be proud of.”

Gul Wahid is working with the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA). He started his career as a de-miner with the Halo Trust, an NGO, in 1997.

He has been in many provinces of Afghanistan with mine action teams. “I cannot imagine my life without mine action and my colleagues,” said Gul Wahid.

He says this is a personal choice of every patriot and it is up to every true Afghan to decide how they will help their country to develop. Some choose to build roads, some teach future generations and some cure ill people.

“I do my small part and that is to make possible the construction of roads, schools and clinics in areas where there are landmines. Most importantly I save the lives of people and prevent them from being maimed or killed by landmines.”

For Gul Wahid working as a de-miner means not only facing danger on daily basis, it also means sacrificing his family life. In the last 11 years he’s rarely been with his family. He has been on de-mining missions in almost all of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

“We are working and praying for peace and I hope Afghanistan will not need any de-miners in the future,” continued Gul Wahid.

Gul Wahid never feels down at work and keeps his spirits high all the time except when a colleague gets injured. “In 2003 after one of my colleagues, Bahramuddin, stepped on a landmine and was killed, I couldn’t concentrate on my work. Whilst I was in the field the smiling face of Bahramuddin was appearing in front of me and distracting me from my work.”

Gul Wahid took several days break from work and then came back with double energy and stronger determination. “We have to work hard today so tomorrow our kids, parents, brothers, sisters and friends live a save life in each and ever corner of the country,” concluded Gul Wahid.

Vaccinating for Peace

One of the huge successes of Peace Day 2007 in Afghanistan was the massive polio vaccination campaign. 10,000 health workers spread out across ten provinces, especially in the south, to immunise 1.3 million children.

Polio, historically a devastating disease was eliminated from the western hemisphere in the late 20th century. In 1952 in the United States alone there were nearly 60,000 cases with more than 3,000 reported deaths. By 1979 polio was eliminated from the United States and in the west by 1991.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Afghanistan had a severe polio outbreak in 2006, largely because of conflict in the south which severely impeded access to children for immunization. Afghanistan is one of just four countries in the world that still suffers endemic polio, along with Pakistan, India and Nigeria.

Millions of children are vaccinated against the disease by over 50,000 health staff and volunteers all over the country during National Immunization Days. When the children are vaccinated, they also receive vitamin A supplements, which help boost their resistance to other childhood diseases.

When immunization days take place, special efforts are made to vaccinate children in the border areas with Pakistan and Iran, as well as those on the move – specifically, returnees and nomads. At cross-border vaccination posts, almost 900,000 children under the age of five are vaccinated annually while travelling between Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries.

UNICEF is also supporting community-based social mobilization networks in southern Afghanistan through its non-governmental partners. Religious leaders, village elders, teachers and community health workers have been mobilized to advocate for the benefits of immunization and to give information on vaccine safety for newborns.

“We can eliminate polio from Afghanistan and we are determined to reach all the children in the country despite the security challenges,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue. “If we continue to miss these children who travel back and forth between the neighbouring countries, the goal to eradicate polio in Afghanistan will remain elusive,” said Mbengue “and children will suffer the consequences.”

In Afghanistan in 2006 there were 31 confirmed cases of polio, 29 of them occurred in rural areas in the south; there were 17 new cases in 2007. That sparked the massive immunization drive for Peace Day last year which built on the ongoing immunization campaigns which take place every two months.

The efforts of Peace Day 2007 were followed up in August 2008 with the Ministry of Public Health joining forces with the WHO, UNICEF and other donors to vaccinate 7.5 million children under the age of five across the country including in the most inaccessible areas.

The Ministry of Public Health leads and coordinates with the polio campaigns while UNICEF provides all the vaccine and cold storage facility as well as advocacy activities in Afghanistan and the WHO provides technical input and training.

Polio affects children under the age of five and is spread when unvaccinated people come into contact with the faeces of those with the virus, often through water. It affects the nervous system, causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and sometimes death.

UNAMA

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