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Ghani gives UNICEF’s polio unit boss 24 hours to leave Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: January 28, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani gave Mohammed Mohammedi, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) polio eradication team in Afghanistan, 24 hours to leave the country, a presidential spokesman said.

According to a Facebook post on Wednesday by Dawa Khan Menapal, Mohammedi was given notice to leave the country for “ignoring the president and for the lack of transparency in his work.”

Meanwhile the Ministry of Public Health said that UNICEF had spent $22 million on an awareness campaign around polio but failed to provide a report to government.

According to Masooma Ghafari, the deputy spokeswoman for the health ministry, there was still an increase in the number of cases despite money having been spent on polio campaigns.

“We need to bring changes in the section,” she said.

Ghani’s sudden move to have Mohammedi expelled drew sharp criticism from some analysts who felt the move would have a negative effect on aid coming in from international organizations.

“Unfortunately, President Ghani’s act with an international organization was startling, and the act will affect the planning of international organizations badly,” said Asif Mobaligh, an international affairs analyst.

Ghani chats to Bill and Melinda Gates about polio concerns

The sudden move to expel Mohammedi also comes just days after Ghani held a telephone conference call with Bill and Melinda Gates whose Foundation is a key donor in Afghanistan’s drive to rid the country of wild polio.

During the meeting the Gates and Ghani expressed their concerns over the surge in polio cases in Afghanistan due to restrictions imposed by the Taliban in areas under their control, the Presidential Palace said in a statement after the virtual meeting.

“The two sides also held a comprehensive discussion on reforming the polio vaccine implementation process and increasing facilities in this regard,” the statement read.

Bill and his wife Melinda run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – a funding organization. Polio eradication is one of their top priorities.

The virtual meeting on Monday night came after the Afghan Ministry of Public Health claimed that more than 3.5 million children have been deprived of anti-polio vaccinations due to Taliban restrictions.

Lancet reports 2020 was a bad year for polio

Earlier this month, the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, reported that there is growing concern about the effect the COVID-19 pandemic could have on global efforts to eradicate the disease.

Polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan were stopped in March last year for several months before being restarted in August.

Speaking to The Lancet, Mohammedi said the decision to halt vaccinations had been “a precautionary measure” as they did not want to contribute towards the spread of COVID-19.

“We didn’t want to replace one virus with another,” he said.

In 2020, 56 polio cases were reported in Afghanistan; in 2019 the number was 29.

UNICEF however estimates that last year, about 50 million children in Afghanistan and Pakistan missed out on vaccines because of the disruption in immunisation due to the pandemic.

Abdul Quayum Pokhla, director of the Regional Emergency Operation Centre for polio in
Kandahar, meanwhile told The Lancet that “2020 was another bad year not just for the south, but for the whole country.”

He said: “The virus spread not just to endemic areas in Afghanistan, but to some free zones. We’ve missed so many children and it will lead to reduced immunity. We are expecting more cases – the virus is circulating in the environment.”

UNICEF states that since 2018, approximately one million children just in southern Afghanistan have missed out on polio vaccinations because of insecurity.

“When it comes to a rise in polio cases, does it make a difference to have 50 or 100 cases? It’s the same root causes,” Mohammedi said.

“We have issues with access and this lack of access has been underestimated by the polio programme. For more than two and a half years some areas have had no access [to vaccines] but the strategy is the same”.

He said “polio is not a priority except for people working for the programme. We have donors that have become massively passive. We need active donors. The UN talks about polio as
if it’s a priority, but it’s not at all. If it were a top priority, the game would change.

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UN office attacked in Herat, at least one guard killed

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(Last Updated On: July 30, 2021)

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Friday that its main compound in western Herat province was attacked by “anti-government elements,” killing at least guard and other officers injured.

In a statement issued on Friday, UNAMA condemned in the “strongest terms” today’s attack.

“The area around Herat where the compound is located witnessed fighting today between the Taliban and government forces,” the statement read. 

The UN added that it is urgently seeking to establish a full picture of the attack and for this purpose is in contact with the relevant parties.

“This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. 

“Our first thoughts are with the family of the officer slain and we wish a speedy recovery to those injured,” Lyons stated.

 According to the statement, no UN personnel was hurt in the incident, in which entrances were attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire.

“The perpetrators of this attack must be identified and brought to account,” said Lyons.

 “Attacks against civilian UN personnel and compounds are prohibited under international law, and may amount to war crimes,” the UN noted.

Immediately, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sources, however, told Ariana News that at least six people – including two security guards of UNAMA, three policemen, and a member of the public uprising forces – were killed and 19 others were wounded in clashes with the Taliban militants in the Guzara, Anjel and Karokh districts at the outskirts of Herat city on Friday.

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Four killed as wildfires sweep Turkey, villages evacuated

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(Last Updated On: July 30, 2021)

The death toll from wildfires on Turkey‘s southern coast has risen to four and firefighters were battling blazes for a third day on Friday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey‘s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas, President Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that 14 were still burning.

Planes from Russia and Ukraine helped battle the flames and another from Azerbaijan was joining them. “As of midday, with the arrival of the planes, we are turning in a positive direction,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

“We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control,” he said.

Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said. On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before it was brought under control.

Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.

In Turkey, firefighters on the ground and in helicopters were fighting a blaze that killed three people in Manavgat, 75 km (45 miles) east of Antalya. Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said 27 neighbourhoods were evacuated there.

One person was found dead on Thursday in Mugla’s Marmaris area, 290 km west of Manavgat. The blaze continued in Marmaris but residential areas were not at risk, Pakdemirli said.

Erdogan said at least five planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 1,080 firefighting vehicles were involved in firefighting efforts at 1,140 sites.

Istanbul governor’s office banned entry to forest areas until the end of August as a precaution against fires.

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20 villages cleared of Taliban, 4 militants arrested in Takhar operation

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(Last Updated On: July 30, 2021)
The Interior Ministry said Friday that more than 20 villages in Taloqan city, the capital of Takhar province, were cleared of the Taliban in a joint operation by the Afghan Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF).

The Ministry said in a statement that the ANSDF and the public uprising forces launched a clearance operation in the center of the city on Friday morning.

The operation was conducted in the PD1 and PD4 areas of Taloqan city.

According to the Ministry, dozens of militants were killed and wounded during the raids.

Security officials said the militants stormed the Qara Parcho, Abdal, Salakhi Qishlaq, Khaskapa, and Chob Bor villages of Taloqan on Thursday night.

According to the officials, at least 13 Taliban fighters were killed and 16 others were wounded in the counter-attacks by Afghan forces.

Three members of the uprising forces were also wounded in the skirmish, sources said.

Meanwhile, Takhar police told Ariana News that the Afghan forces arrested four Taliban insurgents during the operation.

The Taliban has not commented in this regard so far.

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