United Nations to convene meeting 23 June on Iraq's humanitarian needsAs Iraq struggles to recover from conflict and severe economic hardship to a society that is once again able to stand on its own two feet, the United nations has convened a meeting for 23 June to ensure that the Iraqis immediate humanitarian needs are met and the transition to longer-term reconstruction is fully underway by the beginning of the next year.
Thankfully, humanitarian needs in Iraq did not rise to the level for which UN humanitarian agencies had prepared before the conflict, partly because the UN agencies were better prepared for the conflict in Iraq than for any other conflict situation. In addition to the more than 4,000 personnel who were in Iraq before the conflict, 700 staff were deployed to the region in the weeks before the war. Over 300,000 children were vaccinated against communicable diseases. Food, medical supplies and shelter materials were pre-positioned in and outside the country. Mechanisms to coordinate the activities of humanitarian agencies, including comprehensive logistics plans, were in place.
Indeed, such actions and achievements in responding to anticipated humanitarian needs in Iraq have played a crucial role in averting a much larger potential crisis. Even as the conflict was underway, national UN staff continued to carry out their duties. Aid activities under the Oil for Food Programme in Iraq’s three northern govern orates never stopped. National staff of the World Food Programme worked to open corridors from Turkey, Jordan and Iran into Iraq. UNICEF local staff delivered humanitarian supplies and worked to maintain the supply of potable water. WHO local staff supported Iraqi health professionals. Under the Oil for Food Programme, UNDP worked to maintain and restore electric power supplies, especially in the north.
As of today, more than 800,000 metric tonnes of food --- enough to feed almost all of Iraq’s 27 million people for two months --- have been dispatched to Iraq. An average of 3.5 million litres of water per day is being tankered to hospitals, health centres and communities in the south and in the Baghdad area. Basic medicines, vaccines and health supplies have been delivered to facilities throughout the country. Agencies have helped repair and restore water, sanitation and power facilities, as well as schools, which have also been receiving essential education supplies.
But great needs remain. Due to the lack of a functioning economy, combined with prolonged reliance on the ration system, virtually all of the population of Iraq will require food aid in the short run in order to survive. The Flash Appeal for Iraq, asking for $2.2 billion to cover needs for six months, was issued in March. Generous donor funding (approximately $900 million), and access to the resources of the Oil for Food Programme ($1.1 billion), have meant that $2 billion is already available for humanitarian aid for the people of Iraq. The revised humanitarian appeal for Iraq seeks to meet the needs of the Iraqi people up to the end of the year. Given the healthy funding status, only an additional US $ 259 million is required.
Food aid alone accounts for two-thirds of the aid being requested through the Appeal. While the food sector, accounting for some $1.56 bn, is fully funded, funding is still required for equally important interventions in other sectors. Most essential needs must be still met: health care; clean water and sanitation; electricity; infrastructure repair; shelter; mine action and mine awareness; education; food security and agriculture; assistance for internally displaced persons and returning refugees. Given the urgent needs in other parts of the world— in much of Africa, Afghanistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as other places—it is essential that donor countries ensure that contributions to Iraq are in addition to—and not in place of--funding for other emergencies.
While the challenges facing this operation are enormous, the humanitarian community—the UN, ICRC, non-governmental organizations, -- has long experience inside Iraq that will enable it to help Iraq get back on its feet quickly. The UN’s intention is to phase out the great majority of humanitarian assistance activities by the end of 2003; programs under the Appeal are designed to ensure a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to longer-term reconstruction activities.
Most important, the Iraqi people, despite living under difficult circumstances, are highly capable, with a cadre of skilled and dedicated workers in essential professions such as health, education, and the civil service. With the synergy that comes from a close partnership between the people of Iraq, humanitarian workers and donor countries, this crucial period can act as a bridge to a better future, in which the people of Iraq can once again meet their own needs and be in full control of their destiny.