Aid for Iraq: UN Humanitarian Briefing, 29 Apr 2003
Nejib Friji, UN Spokesman
Good Afternoon, I will give the floor for David Wimhurst, Spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.
David Wimhurst, Spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNHCOI)
Thirty more UN international staff left Larnaca today for Diyarbakir, in Turkey, prior to re-entry into Northern Iraq. This is the second team to be deployed to the north. They will travel from Turkey by road via Habur/Silopi, and will remain temporarily in Kirkuk before traveling to Mosul, their final destination, once the security situation there improves.
In Baghdad, the security situation remains uncertain. Shooting continues after dark in spite of the recommendation by the military authorities that city residents observe a curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Premiere Urgence reports that an individual was recently shot dead by four unidentified men in full view of coalition troops, who failed to intervene.
Although political activity is on the increase, with new parties appearing daily, the ready availability of small arms, which can be bought at very low prices in local markets, will remain a destabilizing factor unless steps are taken to prevent access to these weapons.
We reported to you recently the distressing situation in Baghdad of children who have gone missing from the Al-Rahma center for street children and the Al-Awiya orphanage. Unfortunately, there has been very little progress in locating the children who disappeared from these institutions during looting. The few children who have been located are reluctant to return and fears for the welfare of the others are growing. Conditions at the two orphanages remain very bad.
The UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Mr. Tesfaye Maru, met yesterday with the local authorities in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. The Erbil authorities expressed their appreciation for the Oil for Food Programme and requested that it remain in place until the adoption of another mechanism to implement humanitarian aid projects. They emphasized the importance of ensuring that the monthly food rations continue to be distributed under the oil-for-food program to the population.
In Sulaymaniyah, the authorities raised similar issues and also asked the UN to resume as quickly as possible the implementation of projects in the region. These include medical, water, sanitation, educational and telecommunications projects, as well as assistance to internally displaced people.
As more UN staff return to the North, the pace of project implementation will increase.
Khaled Mansour, Spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP)
The UN World Food Programme today opened the fifth humanitarian corridor for food supplies into Iraq when a 22-truck convoy entered into southern Iraq from Kuwait this morning. The convoy carried 880 MT of wheat flour [enough to provide 100,000 people with their flour rations for a whole month]. The convoy is heading towards Nassariya, the capital of Thi Qar province with a population of over 900,000 people. There are about 2000 food and flour agents.
This will be a timely arrival as a rapid needs assessment, which took place at the weekend in Nassiriya, reported that although extra food rations had been distributed before the war, household stocks are unlikely to last beyond the first week of May. Food had been sold on the market to buy other commodities. With food agents and Ministry of Trade personnel ready to resume work, the Public Distribution System is expected to be functioning, hopefully soon.
South of Nassiria, in Basra, WFP has identified 200 staff and warehouse labourers from the Ministry of Trade who are willing to resume their duties and help support the food Public Distribution System.
The MOT warehouses there are in good condition. They are under the protection of the Coalition forces (UK). While most written records have disappeared, there is little repair work to be done before receiving food stocks. A stock-take is underway to establish how much food is available for distribution.
WFP has been running almost daily convoys from Jordan, Turkey and Syria over the past few days. Northern Iraq is now back to the pre-war food security levels, while daily convoys are rolling into Mosul as of last week. Some of that food has already been distributed to patients in a Mosul hospital as we are still working on reviving the public distribution system.
Today we are starting to extend dispatch from Syrian to Kirkuk. So far we have dispatched/loaded close to 7,500 metric tons from Syria directly to Iraq and this is continuing. This is enough food for 525,000 people for one month.
Food distribution continues in the north. For example, WFP staff in Dahuk governorate distributed food and essentials to 22 internally displaced families in Balqoos camp and 55 Arab individuals in Moqebla camp on Sunday. Nearly two tons of rice, sugar, vegetable oil, HEB, lentils, salt, tea and toilet soap were distributed.
We have a press release on what has been achieved in northern Iraq so far to return the region to the pre-war food security levels.
On funding, WFP welcomes two new major contributions from the US and the UK.
a. The United States has increased its contribution by more than 100 million dollars; the US donation now stands at a total $372 million.
b. The UK has more than doubled its original contribution towards WFP's preparedness operation. The British donation now totals $53.
Fadela Chaib, Spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO)
WHO sends tonnes of emergency supplies to Baghdad from Amman
To respond to critical shortages of medicines and other health supplies in Iraqi hospitals and communities, WHO is sending three large trucks, loaded with tonnes of supplies, from Amman to Baghdad today. These include 40 emergency health kits including 10 donated by the government of Norway. Each kit serves 10 000 people for three months, so this delivery will help serve the urgent health needs of 400 000 Iraqi people until the end of July.
These kits include basic drugs, surgical items, insulin and auto destruct syringes.
To boost Iraq's laboratory system, which has been badly affected by looting and other damage, the delivery also include laboratory reagents, and diagnostic testing kits for HIV and Hepatitis C to check blood. Finally, this load of supplies will also help replenish vaccine stocks against rabies, scorpion and snakebites, as well as meningitis. Generally, vaccines were spoiled in many centers when fridges could no longer work as a result of power cuts and shortages. There will also be further delivery of insulin, to boost the stocks WHO had urgently delivered by taxi earlier this week. This will serve hundreds of diabetics.
WHO provides these supplies as part of its ongoing work to ensure hospitals and health centres are able to re-start their activities. This includes providing essential medicines and other drugs, as well as fuel for generators. To this end, the WHO Erbil sub-office provided 105,000 litres of locally procured fuel for generators in Erbil hospitals.
Simon Ingram, Spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)
UNICEF warned today that rapidly dwindling supplies of chlorine gas in southern Iraq would leave drinking water untreated within weeks, with potentially calamitous effects on the lives of Iraqis.
UNICEF said only a small proportion of raw sewage is treated in Iraq. Most sewage is dumped untreated into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and then drawn again into pumping and treatment stations that provide the majority of Iraqi households with water. With the stations running low on chlorine, completely untreated water containing high concentrations of toxins and organic contamination could soon be pumped directly into household pipes.
"We know that Nasriyah, Basra, Zubair, and Safwan are all affected," said Carel de Rooy, the head of UNICEF's Iraq office. "Assessments indicate that water plants there will run out of chlorine by the middle of May."
The agency said that with temperatures in Iraq rapidly increasing, and thousands of children already weak from malnutrition, dirty water will be the final blow.
"The dirty water equation is a simple one," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "Young children have developing immune systems and low body weight. Add a bout of diarrhea or cholera picked up from dirty water, and we can lose them very quickly."
Bellamy noted that in one three-hour period in Baghdad this past week, a hospital reported 300 cases of children admitted with diarrhea. "When the supplies of chlorine run out in some areas as early as this week, drawing water from a tap will be like taking it from a swamp," she said.
The southern part of Iraq and parts of Baghdad have recently been severely affected by shortages of water, which explains increased number of diarrhea cases among young children. If, on top of this, the quality of the available water deteriorates, the groundwork will be laid for epidemics such as cholera and typhoid.
Speaking from Basra, where a UNICEF team had been assessing the water situation, de Rooy noted that in towns in the south where the lack of chlorine has begun to show in the past week, there is a parallel rise in diarrhea.
"It's not too much to say that we are alarmed. The water situation is acute. People have to understand that children, who contract diarrhea, never mind cholera, cannot retain their food. They wither away. And we are on the cusp of seeing contaminated water flow directly from the putrid main rivers into household pipes."
Tankering Operation Has Saved Lives
In communities where water service has been lost completely as a result of the war, UNICEF has trucked in millions of gallons of clean water and set up community water stations at hospitals and health centres. An average of 20 water tankers organized by UNICEF cross into Iraq from Kuwait every day. Positive results have been seen: In the small southern town of Umm Qasr, for example, health centres are already witnessing a decline in diarrhea cases.
UNICEF has also trucked in tonnes of gas chlorine supplies and delivered stocks of oral rehydration salts, which are used to treat children with diarrhea, and high protein biscuits used to rehabilitate malnourished children recovering from diarrhoea bouts.
"It's unfortunately not yet enough," de Rooy said. He noted that water and sanitation systems are not even back to pre-war levels - which already were quite poor.
"What's needed now is an emergency shipment of about 400 tonnes of chlorine gas," de Rooy said. "Without it, we'll see many more child deaths by the end of this month."
UNICEF has more than 200 staff presently working throughout Iraq to assess needs and provide emergency relief, including food for malnourished children, water purification items, medicines, and basic supplies for hospitals. UNICEF is moving supplies into Iraq on a daily basis via convoys from Kuwait, Iran, and Turkey.
UNICEF has issued an appeal for $166 million to support its relief efforts for Iraqi children. About one-third of that amount has been received to date. UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions and relies on the generosity of private individuals, foundations, businesses, and governments to fulfil its mission.
Firas Al Khatib, Spokesman for the UN Education Science Culture Organization (UNESCO)
The second meeting of international experts to save Iraq's museums and cultural property will be held in London on April 29, at the initiative of the British Museum and UNESCO. "I am very pleased to see, once again, the exemplary way in which heritage conservation professionals have mobilized to try to save Iraq's cultural property. I would like this meeting to study all possible means of ensuring the restitution of artifacts stolen from Iraqi museums. The treasures of Iraq's cultural heritage, which bear witness to a particularly fertile history, are irreplaceable for the world scientific community, but even more so for the Iraqi people, for the conservation of their cultural identity and their confidence in the future," said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura in a message that will be read by the Organization's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mounir Bouchenaki, who will co-chair the meeting with Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum.
The meeting will be attended by the curators of the largest collections of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq - from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Berlin's Middle East Museum, the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.
They will try to work out the best ways to rapidly help their colleagues in Baghdad and, in the longer term, Iraqi curators and archaeologists in other parts of the country.
During a closed morning session, John Curtis, the British Museum's Keeper of Ancient Near East Antiquities who has just returned from Baghdad, and Donny George, head of research at the Baghdad Museum, will report on the state of the city's museums.
Participants will also discuss measures to fight the illicit trafficking of Iraqi cultural property, notably within the framework of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, for which UNESCO is responsible.
A second session, open to the press, will start at 2 p.m. at the British Museum's Clore Education Centre, attended by British Secretary of State for Culture Tessa Jowell. A discussion and press conference will begin at 2.30 p.m.
The meeting follows up recommendations made at the first meeting of international experts on Iraqi cultural heritage, which was held at UNESCO on April 17. Participants at that meeting called for an immediate ban on international trade in Iraqi cultural heritage, and for an international effort to help Iraq's cultural institutions.
Questions and Answers
Q: Jill Carroll, Jordan Times: About the chlorine gas, whose job is it to get this, buy & deliver, why is the southern part only affected, why not Baghdad or other areas?
A: S. Ingram: The task of bringing in chlorine gas, which has always been imported, was one that was undertaken by the government of Iraq in pre war days. The fact that the current level of stocks is worse in the south, I think is just because of the manner in which the distribution was carried out in the weeks & months ahead of the conflict, essentially it seems to indicate not enough stock of the chemical was reaching the southern water plants. I think we are saying that the situation is pretty bad throughout the country, but the water plants in the south ran out before the ones in the north. Neither is in a very good situation at all.
Q: Jordan Times: Is it the job of UNICEF to buy & deliver, otherwise who would do this?
A: S. Ingram: No, that is not our intention; our intention is that it is up to the de-facto authorities on the ground in Iraq, who should be fulfilling this role, which was fulfilled in previous times by the previous regime.
Q: Jordan Times: Is there any word on the UN movement to Baghdad, is there a time line or any new information?
A: D. Wimhurst: Not at the moment, we will report to you, if & when we will be able to return to Baghdad. We have no information at the moment that we can report.
Q: Was there any UN security mission assessments, is there some progress being made in that direction?
A: D. Wimhurst: We have said to you all along that we wish to get back as soon as possible. That remains true; it is just a question of finalizing our plans. We don't want to announce anything before they actually go to affect, it is wiser to wait till we have don something before we tell you.
Q: I would assume you have some sort of plan for when you do go in, can you tell us what the structure of the first delegation that goes is will be & where it will come from; as in when it happens, how will it look like?
A: D. Wimhurst: As I said, we will tell you full information, when we have the whole story ready to reveal to you.