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UNICEF Chief To Assess Children Conditions In Afghanistan - 2001-11-29

Carol Bellamy, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund, begins a five-day visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan on Friday. Ms. Bellamy is going to refugee camps in Quetta in Pakistan and to several cities in Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul. Her mission is to assess how years of war and drought have affected the children of Afghanistan.

UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said she hoped her visit will focus greater attention on the needs of Afghanistan's millions of children, as well as on the need to help the country recover from years of war.

Ms. Bellamy said she intended to personally thank UNICEF's local Afghan staff, who continued the agency's humanitarian operations after foreign workers were forced to leave the country. She said she will, along with visiting schools and clinics in Afghanistan, review the status of six UNICEF offices in the country."We know, for example, our office in Herat is basically back, up and functioning at this point. We even have an engineer working out of there taking a look at the conditions of schools to see how quickly we can get back into school. We are trying to identify where the teachers are who are doing the formal schools to try and support them. On the other hand, in Mazar, we know our office has been quite significantly looted. It is still there as contrasted with our Quetta office in Pakistan, which was burned. We are not able to function there. In Kabul, we have a couple of international staff in already,"she said.

Ms. Bellamy said, in addition to focusing on long range plans to help Afghanistan, the world cannot forget its immediate needs. With winter coming, she said there is only a limited time left to get crucial relief supplies into the country before access to some areas is cut off. She said it also is important to remember that Afghanistan was facing a humanitarian crisis well before the September 11 terrorist attacks."I do not think all the problems started with the Taleban. This crisis was years in the making," she said.

Ms. Bellamy said UNICEF will actively look for ways to encourage greater opportunities for women. She said another priority is to get schools functioning again. Under the Taleban rule, she noted, girls were not allowed to go to school. She said boys also lost out on an education because most of the teachers were women. And they were prevented from teaching.