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UNICEF Iraq briefing note 22 Mar 2003

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Statement made by Geoffrey Keele
AMMAN, 22 March 2003

Good afternoon.

UNICEF is now involved in an operation to help safeguard the welfare of extremely vulnerable children in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Yesterday was the Eid Narus, a holiday which in Iraq is particularly associated with a celebration of children. UNICEF national in Baghdad staff managed to get supplies of rice, flour, high-protein biscuits and tinned meat to 4 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 suprising 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 recieved urgent requests for assistance from two other similar institutions at Karbala, to the southwest of Baghdad. It has so far not be possible to reach there.

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 succomb through diarhoea 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 million in health, water, and nutrition supplies in Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan.

Two lorries 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.

For further information please contact us:.

Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Iraq: gkeele@unicef.org (962-6) 551-5921 ext. 126 (cell +962-79)692-619
Anis Salem, UNICEF Amman: asalem@unicef.org (+962-6) 553-9977
Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Geneva: wbelmonte@unicef.org, (+41-79) 909-5509
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF New York, aironside@unicef.org (+1-212) 326-7261