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Aid for Iraq: UN Humanitarian Briefing, 22 Mar 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
Transcript of the UN humanitarian briefing in Amman, Jordan
Nejib Friji, Chairman of the UN Spokespersons group:

Good afternoon. As we brief you here, a group of experts is meeting under the auspices of Germany as Chairman of the Security Council Sanctions Committee known as Committee 661 to prepare a draft resolution whereby the Security Council would allow the adjustment of the Oil-For Food Programme in order to continue providing the emergency humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people during and after the war, as suggested by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet top UN humanitarian officials Wednesday in New York to discuss the coordination of all aid to the Iraqi people during and after the war.

Participants in the meeting are expected to include UN Development Programme Administrator (UNDP) Malloch Brown, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Executive Director Carol Bellamy and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers. Kenzo Oshima Head of The Office For the Coordination of the Humanitarian Affairs (OCH) and Bennon Sevan, The Executive Director of the now suspended Oil-for Food Programme.

Special Representative of UN Secretary-General For Children and Armed conflict, Olara Otunu, called upon all parties involved in the conflict in Iraq to ensure the rights, protection and well-being of children at all times during the conflict.

"It is the responsibility of the parties to ensure that children are given special protection, that children and facilities critical for their well-being, such as hospitals and schools, are not attacked, and that children are not used as combatants," Otunnu said.

The full text of the statement is available outside.

David Wimhurst, Spokesman for The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq

Situation in the north

In the north of Iraq, the number of people returning to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah is increasing and shops re-opening, but people are still leaving Dahuk. Distribution of food stocks still held in WFP warehouses in the north is continuing.

Up until yesterday, the total number of people registered as internally displaced in the northern governorates after leaving Government of Iraq controlled areas is almost 5,000.

The number of families who fled from Erbil and settled near the Iranian border has decreased. Some have returned home, while others have found accommodation with relatives. Around 100 families remain but they are not in immediate need of relief assistance.


The European Commission (EC) announced that of 22 million Euros to be released for humanitarian aid, 3 million euros will be disbursed immediately to provide emergency relief to 75,000 IDPs through the ICRC.


Reportedly, a number of oil wells in southern Iraq are on fire. The United Nations Environmental Programme is preparing a report on the key environmental issues that will have to be faced in the post-conflict humanitarian and reconstruction effort.

Geoffrey Keele, Spokesman for UN Children's Fund (UNICEF):

UNICEF is now involved in an operation to help safeguard the welfare of extremely vulnerable children in institutions in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Yesterday was Eid Naroos, the Festival of Spring, a holiday that in Iraq is particularly associated with children and a time of re-birth.

UNICEF national Iraqi in Baghdad staff managed to get supplies of rice, flour, high-protein biscuits and tinned meat to four institutions in central Baghdad housing up to 800 children. This was in answer to a plea for help from administrators. These institutions do not have their own resources and are totally depended on what food is given from the government ration.

The UNICEF team loaded two trucks and managed to visit all the four homes. They report that the children were clean and well kept, but very disturbed by what was happening. When staff asked the children what they wanted, it is not perhaps surprising that the children asked for the bombing to stop. That was yesterday. Because of events overnight two UNICEF staff members are attempting to revisit the four institutions. There was no update from the field by the time of this briefing.

UNICEF in Baghdad also received urgent requests for assistance from two other similar institutions at Karbala, to the southwest of Baghdad. The team is working to find the best and safest way of providing the food.

The overhauling of back-up generators for the Baghdad city water and sewage systems has been completed by contractors working under the UNICEF Water Programme. Oil for the generators has also been delivered. This is a significant development that is aimed at securing the health and welfare of children who can all too easily in these conditions succumb through diarrhea and other diseases caused by unsafe water. If electrical power is interrupted by the bombing, these generators will be crucial to protecting people's health and children's lives.

In the present circumstances UNICEF would repeat the following. We know that in wartime children are the most vulnerable. Close to one million Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition. The UNICEF Emergency Team dealing with Iraq have procured and positioned a total of $9.1 million in health, water, and nutrition supplies in Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan.

Two trucks containing essential medicines and water purification tablets have arrived in Baghdad from Jordan. Most of the medical supplies have been distributed by UNICEF to hospitals. The chlorine tablets will be distributed to health centres by the Ministry of Health for use in any possible cholera or typhoid outbreak.

These are just the first of UNICEF's efforts. As this crisis continues to develop we are preparing to mount one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts in our history. We hope it will prove not to be needed.

Peter Kessler, Spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

Throughout the region, UNHCR has dispatched experienced emergency officers to monitor borders, establish offices, and to strengthen our existing operations.

In Jordan, UNHCR now has eight staff based at Ruwaished and the Al Karama border crossing. The Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization/UNHCR camp at Ruwaished can now accommodate up to 2,000 refugees. So far, 40 tents have been erected and workers have installed 80 flush latrines. The camp's water system will be ready by tomorrow, including showers. Earthworks are also underway for latrines. Five metric tons of high-energy biscuits and 1,000 ready-to-eat rations supplied by German Agro Action are in stock, and WFP food rations are available on request.

UNHCR's border team at Al Karama is going into the no-man's-land up to several hundred meters from Iraq's Trebil frontier post. There are no Iraqi refugees in the border area. Thirteen people, mostly dual nationals, remain at the border holding centre while their cases are resolved.

UNHCR today sent two international staff from Tehran to strengthen our existing office at Orumiyeh, in northwestern Iran. In all, we've sent nine additional staff to our three offices in western Iran to monitor borders and the construction of four of the Iranian government's 10 planned refugee camps.

UNHCR mobile field teams in Turkey are operating in the border region. Yesterday they visited the western sector of the frontier and spoke with residents in five border villages, traveling up to the Uludere gate, where the majority of the Iraqi refugees arrived in 1991, when some 500,000 Iraqis fled into Turkey or to makeshift encampments along the frontier. Another field team also traveled to Hakkari. There are so far no Iraqis approaching that frontier.

In Syria, UNHCR's representative is meeting with the governor of Hassake Province today to discuss arrangements to receive Iraqi refugees. The government has agreed that the El Hol camp can be used for Iraqis, and that sites can be established near two of the main entry points from Iraq. We have no reports of any refugee arrivals at that frontier.

Outside you will find a fact sheet on Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers. More than 400,000 Iraqi refugees are spread across 90 countries, with Iran sheltering more than half. In 2002, statistics from 37 industrialized countries show that Iraqis are the largest group of asylum seekers with more than 51,000 applications. This is more than a third higher than the next group, Yugoslavs.

I also would like to bring you attention to UNHCR's special web site on Iraq and our operations in the surrounding countries, Iraq Emergency. Look for it at our web site

Chris Lom, Spokesman for the International Organization For Migration (IOM)

Last night the first group of 22 Egyptians fleeing Iraq left the Ruweished transit camp near the Iraqi border aboard an IOM bus bound for Aqaba on the Red Sea.

After their 12-hour overnight bus journey, the returnees, who included four Iraqi women married to Egyptian men, were met by IOM officials in Aqaba and provided with tickets for the 1.5-hour high-speed ferry trip to Nuweiba in Egypt.

On arrival in Nuweiba at 1.30 pm this afternoon, the group was met by the Egyptian authorities, who will arrange onward transport to their homes.

IOM believes that Egyptians may eventually constitute the largest group of third country nationals fleeing Iraq across the Karama border into Jordan. An IOM contingency plan, developed with the Jordanian military and the Jordanian Red Crescent, suggested that there may be as many as 50,000 Egyptians working in Iraq, many of whom may flee to Jordan, if the conflict intensifies.

Under the IOM plan, Egyptians, like other nationalities, are picked up by IOM buses at the border, provided with food and water, and moved the 50kms to the Ruweished transit camp. In the camp, they are registered and medically screened by IOM as quickly as possible, before rejoining buses to Aqaba.

The IOM buses, which have medical staff and toilets on board, travel non-stop on public and military roads to Aqaba through the night, and are accompanied by police escorts.

For other third country nationals, IOM arranges flights home from Amman. Last night at midnight the first 147 Sudanese left Amman for Khartoum aboard an IOM-chartered Royal Jordanian Airways Airbus A-320.

They included a large number of families with children and a number of students. An IOM doctor travelled with the group, which included a 7-year old boy with a broken leg and an elderly man who had suffered a stroke in Ruweished. Another 16 Sudanese left Amman for Khartoum today with IOM on commercial flights.

The departure of the Egyptians and the Sudanese from the camp, which is run by the Jordanian Red Crescent, with the support of the International Federation and IOM, leaves a population of about 300. They include 229 Sudanese, many of whom refused to fly to Sudan yesterday on the grounds that they faced persecution if they returned home.

The group met with the Sudanese Ambassador today and, following his assurances, agreed to return to Sudan tomorrow. They will board IOM buses to Amman tomorrow morning and fly home on a second IOM-chartered Royal Jordanian Airways flight to Khartoum tomorrow evening.

A similar problem with 40 Somalis who refuse to return home has yet to be resolved. Other nationalities represented in the camp include Yemenis, Eritreans, Malians, Chadians and one Djiboutian.

Conditions in the camp, which suffers from cold night temperatures and high winds, are extremely basic. While tents, food, water, kerosene lamps and some medical services are provided there is still no electricity.

IOM is urgently appealing to donor governments for funds to support its work in the region. Its mandate includes transport for refugees and third country nationals to transit camps in countries bordering Iraq; repatriation for third country nationals; and coordination of relief efforts for displaced people inside Iraq as soon as access becomes possible.

Fadela Chaib, Spokeswoman For The World Health Organization (WHO):

WHO posted an interesting background document on the health situation of the Iraqi population on its home web site. It's a compilation of health data on several issues going from child health to health facilities.

This is the web address:

Risks to health during conflict

Conflict will inevitably cause loss of lives, physical injuries, widespread mental distress, a worsening of existent malnutrition (particularly among children) and outbreaks of communicable diseases. Internally displaced and refugee populations are at particular risk. Common, preventable diseases such as diarrhea, threaten life. Chronic illnesses that can normally be treated lead to severe suffering. The dangers of pregnancy and childbirth are amplified.

If 10 000 Iraqi people are unable to access health care for one month, at least:

  • 30 children with diarrhea will not be treated
  • 55 children with respiratory infections will go untreated
  • 5 children with pneumonia will not receive life-saving antibiotics
  • 30 insulin-dependent diabetics will be unable to receive treatment
  • 150 pregnant women will not receive antenatal care
  • 20 pregnant women will deliver without trained assistance
The World Health Organization is continuing to prepare for a potential health crisis on three fronts: the resident Iraqi population, any outflow of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs). The health of the Iraqi population is generally poor: malnutrition is widespread, especially among children who are also prone to acute respiratory infections and diarrhea. Women, children, adolescents, the elderly, poor, disabled and chronically ill are particularly vulnerable to disease outbreaks and other health risks.

WHO is leading the vital Health Coordination Group of the United Nations, which is preparing to support the health of the Iraqi people inside or outside the country in any humanitarian crisis. The Health Coordination Group is focusing mainly on the twin tasks of pre-positioning medical supplies and preparing teams of skilled experts to respond to any health emergency. Teams from WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network are prepared to respond both to reports of disease outbreaks among people leaving Iraq, and to the ongoing need to support the health system inside the country.

It is estimated that there are already sufficient medical supplies in government warehouses to cover three months of normal consumption.

WHO, together with other United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have also pre-positioned medicines and other health supplies in Iran, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey. Many of these supplies are in the form of New Emergency Health Kits, which are designed to meet the health needs of a population of 10,000.

In refugee camps, WHO and its partners anticipate that there could be increases in cases of measles, meningitis, cholera, diarrhea, deaths of women during childbirth and complications arising from chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

In Iraq, vaccination rates are relatively low for diseases such as measles and meningitis. In the crowded and unsanitary conditions that are likely to exist in camps for refugees or Internally Displaced People, outbreaks of these diseases are even more likely. Within Iraq, any damage to the water or sanitation systems would also increase the risks of outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea disease.

Supporting health is a vital element in the effort to limit the impact of any humanitarian crisis on the Iraqi people.

WHO calls on all the parties to the conflict in Iraq to fully respect the neutrality of medical facilities and staff. WHO urges all the combatants not to attack medical facilities or to put the facilities or health workers in danger.

International law clearly protects medical facilities and staff as well as civilians and the medical and humanitarian they use. Supporting the health of the civilian population is a vital task and one must not in any way be deliberately endangered.