Departing UN spokesman highlights Afghanistans progress remaining challenges

United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva gave his final briefing in Afghanistan today after more than three tumultuous years, highlighting some of the country’s successes during his tenure there but also pointing out the remaining challenges in the rebuilding process.Offering his perspective on progress so far, Mr. de Almeida e Silva, the spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), recalled the early days of his tour, when the capital Kabul was “a sea of destroyed buildings” as well as “empty streets, very few cars, a number of bicycles, and fewer people than what we see now.”Illustrating the lack of national capacity, he noted that one of the first priorities of the international community had been “to put furniture in the offices of ministers, to put glass in the windows, to give a set of cars to government officials, because there was nothing” at the time.”There were no phones,” he added. “If you wanted to have a meeting you had to give a driver a piece of paper to say [to the person you wanted to see]: ‘Meet me at such a place and at such a time.'”While acknowledging that much remains to be done, he voiced satisfaction at improvements over the past three years and cited progress in the realms of education and health. “There are more than four million children in school, which this country never had before; 30 per cent of them are girls,” he said. “Polio is about to be eradicated.”The spokesman also paid tribute to the reporters covering Afghanistan. “This is a key role of the media as society’s watchdog – through your questions and your stories you contribute to the transparency and accountability of governments and institutions like the United Nations.”He noted that last year’s election had been a particularly telling milestone. “Who would have thought that more than eight million people would come out and vote in spite of the fears? There were fears in those days, we all remember that – but people went out and voted.”Mr. de Almeida de Silva, who has previously worked for the UN in the former Yugoslavia, Guatemala and other field missions, will head to New York for a new assignment at the world body’s Headquarters. read more