Iraq + 6 more

Aid for Iraq: UN Humanitarian Briefing, 20 Mar 2003

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Following is a near-verbatim transcript of the UN Humanitarian Briefing in Amman, Jordan
Nejib Friji, Chairman of the UN spokespersons group:

Good afternoon

My colleagues and I welcome you to the UN Briefing Centre on the UN Humanitarian role and activities related to the situation in Iraq.

He read the Secretary-General's statement on Iraq:

"Today, despite the best efforts of the international community and the United Nations, war has come to Iraq for the third time in a quarter of a century.

Perhaps if we had persevered a little longer, Iraq could yet have been disarmed peacefully, or - if not - the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case.

But let us not dwell on the divisions of the past. Let us confront the realities of the present, however harsh, and look for ways to forge stronger unity in the future.

My thoughts today are with the Iraqi people, who face yet another ordeal. I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law, and will do everything in their power to shield the civilian population from the grim consequences of war. The United Nations, for its part, will do whatever it can to bring them assistance and support. Let us hope the future will be much brighter for the Iraqi people than the recent past, and that they will soon have the chance to rebuild their country in peace and freedom, under the rule of law.

Over the past weeks, the peoples of the world have shown what great importance they attach to the legitimacy conveyed by the authority of the United Nations. They have made clear that, in confronting uncertainty and danger, they want to see power harnessed to legitimacy. They want their leaders to come together, in the United Nations, to resolve the problems shared by all humanity.

I will do my utmost to ensure that the United Nations rises to this challenge."

Veronique Taveau, Spokesperson for the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq

As you know the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, is now in Cyprus where the United Nations humanitarian hub has been organised with all UN humanitarian organisations. All international staff has been evacuated from Iraq. We left Iraq 18 March. But we also left 3,500 professionals, national Iraqis who work with us under the oil for food programme. They are UN staff. And today they are especially in our thoughts.

The Oil for Food programme was suspended the moment the international UN staff left Iraq. Because we no longer have the ability to inspect the exports of oil or to check imports of the commodities we are not on the ground to observe the distribution of those commodities.

The Humanitarian Coordinator has been expressing deep concerns about the humanitarian situation for quite a long time. Having been on the ground in Iraq we know the level of fragility of the Iraqi population because of 13 years of sanction and because of the dependency of the population to the oil for food programme. We know that 60% of the Iraqi population is fully dependent on the food entitlement from the food basket they get through the oil for food programme, we know that at the moment 50% of pregnant women in Iraq are anemic because they don't get enough protein and iron. We know that 30% of new born children are underweight. We know that the quality of the water is not good even if there has been great improvement through the oil for food programme. If there is no more electricity and the water cannot be cleaned, this can lead very quickly to epidemics and you have to bear in mind that it will soon be very hot in Iraq and obviously hot weather will rapidly spread epidemics.

Khaled Mansour, Spokesman for WFP

The United Nations World Food Programme continues to operate inside Iraq where we have 800 national staff members. They will continue to work as far as security conditions permit and food supplies last.

Meanwhile in the south and center where the Iraqi government is in charge of the OFFP programme, the warehouses are almost empty. We believe that most people have enough food to sustain them for up to six weeks.

Outside Iraq, we have already secured enough supplies in neighbouring countries for two million people for one month.

We will be launching a phased series of humanitarian operations to ensure that the Iraqi people - who have been dependent on food rations after 12 years of UN sanctions -- can continue to receive their basic food needs.

As currently envisioned, this operation could cost over one billion dollars and the main goal is to guarantee that the monthly food distribution system -- the lifeline for the majority of the people in Iraq- could continue to function.

No party wishes to see suffering on the part of the Iraqi people, and it would be devastating for them if adequate food supplies are not in place within weeks.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of food have to be ordered within days. Every day that would be wasted without placing orders for food, ships, and trucks could be another day of suffering for Iraqi civilians.

We have gone through months of extensive planning. Our staff members are in place, contracts with trucking companies have been drafted, communication equipment has been installed and a very complex transport network can spring into action at a very short notice.

Over the coming four weeks we will focus our work on the potential flow of Iraqi refugees into neighbouring countries with as many cross-border operations as possible for population groups within Iraq that could be in dire need of food aid. We estimate that about 2.1 million people MAY need emergency assistance during the coming four weeks.

In a few weeks (4-6) we may be called upon to sustain the operation of the monthly food rationing system in Iraq, i.e. possibly assisting the whole Iraqi population, up to 27 million people.

The hope is that after four months assisting all of the population, WFP would be able to scale back and Iraq would be able to launch a system for food rationing on its own. WFP would then focus on A POTENTIAL CASELOAD OF about five million refugees outside Iraq as well as displaced and vulnerable people inside the country.

This operation is a logistician's nightmare, with a very complex matrix of assumptions, unknowns, and uncertainties, primary among them the duration of the war, the intensity of military operations and the state of silos, mills and roads few weeks from now.

Peter Kessler, Spokesman for UNHCR:

Here's some updated information on the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) continuing humanitarian preparations in the Iraq region. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today called on all governments neighbouring Iraq to keep their borders open to those in need of temporary protection and assistance. We rely on countries keeping borders open so refugees can seek temporary protection and assistance.

Iraq's neighbors have primary responsibility for providing refugees with temporary protection and material assistance to lessen the effects of human suffering, and for security, including maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of any refugee-hosting areas. UNHCR is working to augment that reception capacity by helping the government's to establish camps throughout the region.

There are no reports yet of refugees moving out of Iraq. UNHCR is in contact with the government regarding two Iraqis at the border - they are traveling alone and say that they want to proceed onwards to other countries. Third country nationals (TCNs) are the only significant groups we've seen arriving at Jordan's Al Karama border crossing. UNHCR has sent rations to the border for this group, and IOM is in contact with the authorities about arranging their onward transit.

In Jordan, UNHCR and the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) are preparing one camp site at Ruwaished, about 60 kilometers from the Iraqi border, just east of Ruwaished town. We signed an agreement on Wednesday with Jordan's Ministry of Planning to provide $1 million for work on the site. Ruwaished will be ready for 5,000 Iraqi refugees by next week. Preparations are ongoing at Ruwaished so that if necessary it will accommodate up to 10,000 people. Weather permitting, JHCO workers will start erecting tents today. Water is available, and a desalinisation plant to enhance the water quality at Ruwaished has been installed by the government. The NGO Japan Platform is establishing a health clinic at the site. Starting today, OXFAM will begin work on the camp's water distribution system. At the Al Karama border crossing point, east of Ruwaished, the Jordanian government is leveling a site for possible use as a transit area for refugee arrivals, and installing toilets. UNHCR has one staff member on duty at Al Karama to monitor the border.

We have sent supplies of tents, blankets, plastic tarpaulins, kitchen sets, mattresses, stoves, lanterns, and hygienic supplies for 10,000 people to a Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization-managed warehouse in Ruwaished, where UNHCR has secured a satellite office. UNHCR staff are based out of our new satellite office in Ruwaished since earlier this week. Also at Ruwaished, the government of Jordan and the Jordanian Red Crescent are preparing a second site for possible third country nationals, should any foreign workers leave Jordan.

In Syria, El Hol camp, about 100 kms from the Iraqi border, has an initial capacity for 4,000 to 5,000 people. The site will soon be ready to shelter up to 10,000 once some on-going sanitation works are completed, and we've already pre-positioned supplies for 10,000 people, with additional supplies available at our regional warehouses in Jordan and Turkey. UNHCR staff leaving Iraq on Tuesday saw a number of 4WD cars heading towards Iraq's frontier with Syria, and there have been reports lately of a number of Iraqis renting flats in Damascus. In recent weeks we've seen no change in the number of Iraqi asylum seekers in Syria, nor elsewhere in the region.

UNHCR today released $1 million to Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) to help finance works at the four sites currently under preparation to ready them for the possible arrival of 60,000 refugees. Site preparation is currently on going at the four camps in Kermanshah, Ilam and Khuzistan provinces under preparation to accommodate 15,000 people apiece for a total of 60,000.

UNHCR has four mobile teams in Turkey. So far, we have not seen any refugees crossing the border from Iraq. According to various reports, there have been some population movements from cities and towns in the north of Iraq, but no pressure on the border and it seems that people have basically moved into the countryside. We're not able to gauge the scale of this displacement, but some reports speak of movements from towns in the range of 80,000 people.

Throughout the region, UNHCR's contingency planning for refugee movements is based on an initial preparedness figure for 600,000 Iraqi refugees. This is not a "prediction," but a working figure based on one of many possible scenarios. It allows us to plan our budgets, logistical requirements and staffing needs. The working figure is not set in stone and can be adjusted as events dictate. And we know all too well from past experience that these working figures can be substantially different than the eventual reality.

The initial contingency preparations by UNHCR for 600,000 people require $60 million to purchase the necessary supplies and to operate camps for one month. We expect to launch a further appeal covering a six-month period later in March. This initial $60 million budget is part of the $123 million in requirements already announced by the United Nations in New York on Feb. 13 to cover the initial joint preparedness efforts of nine U.N. humanitarian agencies and IOM.

Of the $60 million sought by UNHCR, we have received $21 million. The United Kingdom this week contributed $2.7 million, while Australia and Norway said they would re-pay $1.8 million out of a $6 million loan UNHCR took from the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund.

Drawing on contributions to date and our limited existing reserves, UNHCR has spent $28 million on procurement, transportation and storage of non-food relief items, and on other preparedness measures in the region. As of yesterday, we had pre-positioned emergency stocks for nearly 300,000 people in the region and we should have enough in place for 350,000 in the next fortnight. Supplies (tents, blankets, plastic tarpaulins, mattresses, stoves, lanterns, kitchen sets, etc.) continue to arrive and are being pre-positioned around the region, including Iskenderun, Turkey, Kermanshah, Iran, and Aqaba, Jordan. We are also assembling information from a wide range of other partners in the region who have their own emergency stocks in place.

In recent weeks, we have deployed about 30 additional international staff to countries surrounding Iraq. They join the more than 200 national and international staff already working in our 15 offices across the region. We also have on standby seven emergency response teams - - each with about 15 or 20 members - who can be deployed within 72 hours. These teams are composed of specialists in emergency work and cover a range of protection, assistance and technical needs.

UNHCR is working in close partnership with the neighboring states to protect and assist refugees, including through their national Red Crescent Societies in conjunction with the IFRC and ICRC. The region's Red Crescent societies have good domestic networks and operational capacity, which make them a good fit with UNHCR's international protection and advocacy responsibilities. This is why UNHCR is now working with them and other partners to assemble information on our combined emergency stocks in the region.

In the event of refugee flows, UNHCR would focus primarily on its mandated international protection and advocacy role, including monitoring in support of keeping borders open and ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected - entailing UNHCR's access to all refugee populations. UNHCR will deploy its own specialist staff to provide proper technical expertise and support for national efforts to protect and assist refugees within and along their borders. This could include any asylum seekers caught along Iraq's borders with neighboring states.

UNHCR's will focus on upholding basic refugee protection principles, particularly the principle of non-refoulement and access to asylum. Together with the host governments, UNHCR staff would conduct registration of refugees. UNHCR will also seek the continued protection of some 100,000 refugees already living in Iraq.

Materially -- and depending on available resources --UNHCR will support governments in providing essential services, including food, basic shelter, water, sanitation facilities, health care and clothing. To the extent possible, UNHCR will supplement the material aid provided by the host governments, their national Red Crescent societies, NGOs and other humanitarian organizations.

Fadela Chaib, Spokesperson for World Health Organization

I would like to begin with a quotation from a speech the Director General of World Health Organization will give right now to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The speech is on the subject of health and human rights - The Right to Health.

"Today I would like to make an appeal for the most vulnerable citizens of Iraq - the elderly, women and children, and people with disabilities. With Iraq's vital infrastructure already devastated, the most basic human rights to clean water or to basic health care cannot be met. We must do everything we can to mitigate this humanitarian disaster. I reiterate yesterday's call from the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anna, to the international community to protect Iraq's most vulnerable citizens, and respond with generosity and speed."

For many months now, WHO is working to prepare for the potential impact of this conflict on the health of the Iraqi people. WHO leads the Health Coordination Group, which is working with governments, other UN agencies, Intergovernmental organizations and NGOs to support the health of Iraqis in the event of a humanitarian crisis. That means preparing to support the health system inside Iraq, as well as with the surrounding countries.

WHO has been given the role of leading the Health Coordination Group, a planning and implementing mechanism to provide a coordinated response to health risks in Iraq and surrounding countries during and after armed conflict in the region.

The Health Coordination Group is working to:

  • Achieve the highest possible level of preparedness at national, sub-national, community and family level to limit the health consequences of intensified armed conflict;

  • Ensure appropriate ordering, procurement, placement and distribution of drugs and medical supplies and equipment;

  • Mitigate the effects of the conflict on the health of the general population, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs and refugees and other vulnerable groups;

  • Move as rapidly as possible, post-conflict, to restore services and support recovery and rehabilitation of the health sector.
Health measures required in a humanitarian crisis:

The most pressing health-related measures in the event of war would be:

  • Providing supplies and treatment for handling trauma and injuries;

  • Preventing outbreaks of communicable and endemic diseases such as cholera, typhoid or measles;

  • Providing adequate, safe drinking water and access to sanitation;

  • Making sure that adequate stocks of essential drugs, medicines and medical supplies are in position;

  • Minimizing, as much as possible, the discontinuation of routine treatments for chronic illnesses, such as kidney dialysis, and diabetes and cancer treatments;

  • Tending to the needs of especially vulnerable populations, i.e. pregnant and lactating women, children, the elderly, chronically ill and disabled; and

  • Responding to health risks of internally displaced or refugee populations who due to their poorer living conditions are more vulnerable to disease.
Target population Planning of response efforts to the health crisis has taken into consideration that different groups of people would have different health needs:
  • Resident population: The main activity in the last months has been to strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi health care system by positioning medical supplies and drugs inside the country in order to support Iraqi health workers manage an eventual health crisis.

  • Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Health kits already stored in the region would be brought into the areas where displaced people concentrate, as soon as security clearance is given.
Supplies and health staff are already in place

Kits containing supplies for basic health care are already in place in Iraq (15 emergency health kits . One kits is for 10,000 people for three months. In addition, supplies stored in Government warehouses are estimated to be the equivalent of three months normal consumption. In surrounding countries, kits to cover around 150,000 refugees for three months are in place. Supplies for another 750,000 are reported to be in the pipeline or available to be called on within a few days for use in Iraq and the region.

Local staff

Although international UN staff have left the country, national staff - more than 328 WHO local staff are continuing to work and continuing to prepare for the potential impact of conflict.

Geoffrey Keele, Spokesman for UNICEF

This afternoon the Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy, issued a statement following the opening of hostilities in Iraq. In the statement she says:

UNICEF is deeply concerned about the impact of this war on Iraqi children and women. We know that in wartime children are the most vulnerable population. This is especially so in Iraq, where poor governance, two prior wars, and years of international sanctions have combined to weaken the Iraqi population.

Iraqi children are extremely vulnerable. More than 1 million children under age five are malnourished. When children are poorly nourished they are susceptible to disease. Disease spreads rapidly during war, when safe water supplies are disrupted, people are displaced from their homes, and sources of food and medicine are compromised. When you factor in the loss of education and the psycho-social trauma, there is no question that war takes its greatest toll on children. And we should all remember that children make up half of Iraq's population.

I urge the parties to this conflict to abide by their international humanitarian obligations. I urge the parties to this conflict to make the safety of children a priority. And I urge them to do all in their power to protect children's lives, their health, and their general well-being.

Copies of the statement are available.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq is extremely dramatic and has been for years. Over the past two months UNICEF in Iraq has done its utmost to try to make children more resilient and better able to cope with whatever now may happen. A polio immunisation and measles campaign has been conducted. Specialised food for the treatment of malnourished children has been distributed. One of the lessons learned after 1991 was that disruption of water supplies led to the deaths of children through dehydration caused by diarrhoea. According to reports from Baghdad this morning from UNICEF national staff, work is still going on to fit fuel tanks for 11 back up generating plants at water treatment plants. This is essential work.

Two trucks with first aid kits and water purification tablets for Baghdad are awaiting clearance at the Jordan border.

Emergency supplies such as health kits and high protein foods for malnourished children have been stockpiled in neighbouring countries.

We have had conflicting reports on the numbers of people moving from their homes in northern Iraq. Two teams of UNICEF national staff are in the field to try and get a clearer picture. We do know that substantial numbers of people have moved from the towns of Erbil, Dohuk and Sulamanieh to nearby rural areas over the past few days where they feel safer. We understand that in some cases men, having moved their families, are returning to look after property. In Kirkuk and Mosul people have moved into northern Iraq. These movements look like people making their own decisions about where it is best to go for their own safety. For the moment, until we have received reports from staff, we do not necessarily feel that this is a situation that requires an immediate humanitarian response. By saying that, we do not in any way belittle the worry and the concern that people in northern Iraq are feeling.

We have talked to staff this afternoon in Baghdad, many of whom have gone to the UNICEF office to continue their work.

Chris Lom, spokesman for IOM

IOM Launches Border Shuttle Bus Service for Refugees and Third Country Nationals Fleeing Iraq. Yesterday IOM launched a shuttle bus service from the Jordanian side of the Iraqi border to transit camps near the town of Ruweished 50 kms inside Jordan to help refugees and third country nationals fleeing Iraq.

According to the Jordanian immigration authorities, 325 Jordanians and 379 foreigners crossed the Karama border yesterday. These included some 150 Jordanian students who traveled with IOM buses to Ruweished, where they picked up public transport.

IOM buses also brought 29 Sudanese nationals to a transit camp for third country nationals (TCNs) in Ruweished set up by the Jordanian Red Crescent with the support of the International Federation of the Red Crescent / Red Cross and IOM. A second nearby camp, run by the Hashemite Charitable Society and UNHCR, is scheduled to start receiving Iraqi refugees today.

As of 3.00pm today, some 179 third country nationals, mostly Sudanese, but including Egyptians, Somalis and Yemenis had arrived in the TCN camp. IOM operations officers at the border reported that nobody else was waiting at the border. Sudanese embassy officials traveled to the border this morning to facilitate their entry into Jordan.

When they crossed the border, IOM buses took them to the TCN camp in Ruweished and, under its mandate to help third country nationals fleeing Iraq, IOM will arrange their onward travel from the camp to Sudan, probably by air from Amman. There are currently ten buses operating the shuttle.

IOM believes that the largest group of TCNs crossing the Karama border into Jordan may eventually be Egyptian. An IOM contingency plan, developed with the Jordanian military and the Jordanian Red Crescent, is to bus them from Ruweished to Aqaba on the Red Sea. In Aqaba, where IOM has an office in the port, they will board an IOM-chartered ferry for the 3-hour journey to Egypt. In Egypt they will be met by the Egyptian authorities and provided with onward transport to their homes.

For other TCNs of other nationalities, IOM will arrange transport to their home countries by air from Amman, or by alternative means / routes, depending on numbers.

In Syria, IOM Damascus will deploy operations staff to Hassake and Abu Kamal tomorrow. It is not yet clear whether Syria's borders will be open to people fleeing Iraq, but we believe that the border will be open to TCNs. It is also not yet clear as to where TCNs would stay pending their departure to their home countries with IOM, probably by air from Damascus. But a UNHCR transit camp at El Hol, originally intended for both refugees and TCNs, is reportedly now ready to receive up to 10,000 people. A second camp, run by the Syrian Red Crescent, and exclusively for TCNs, is also under discussion.

In Iran, the other country likely to attract a significant outflow of people, refugees and TCNs crossing the border will be brought to transit camps by BAFIA, the Iranian immigration dept. IOM will identify TCNs in the camps and provide onward air transport to their home countries from Tehran.

IOM also has operations staff on standby in Kuwait, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but expects that, due to the direction of the war, the outflow of people across these borders will be much smaller than into the countries listed above.