The announcement came as UN agencies in the region mustered their resources to bring relief to civilians, ranging from preparations outside Iraq for fleeing refugees and providing food for the hungry, to medical care for pregnant women inside the country and monitoring the effect of the conflict on Iraq's environment.
Participants in the meeting on Wednesday are expected to include UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Mark Malloch Brown; World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James T. Morris; UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers. Also scheduled to take part in the meeting are Kenzo Oshima, the Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Benon Sevan, the Executive Director of the now-suspended Oil-for-Food programme, which allows Baghdad to use a portion of its petroleum sales to buy relief supplies.
Meanwhile on the ground, the UNHCR reported today that its offices in the region had not registered any mass movements of refugees into neighbouring states. During the UN's humanitarian briefing in Amman, Jordan, UNHCR reiterated that it currently had relief supplies in place in the region for some 300,000 people and should reach 350,000 by the end of the month.
To protect the health of pregnant women displaced by war, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that it had put essential medical supplies and equipment in place inside Iraq and at sites in neighbouring countries where refugees are anticipated.
Warning that pregnancy and birthing complications are generally the leading causes of death for displaced women and girls in times of upheaval, UNFPA said it had deployed life-saving equipment including mobile emergency obstetric care surgery units, ambulances and ultrasound scanners, as well as antibiotics, other drugs and clean delivery and postnatal care supplies.
The WFP told the Amman briefing it had secured enough food for two million people for one month thanks to $46 million from various donors, led by the United States with $40 million. But spokesman Khaled Mansour noted that the WFP was gearing up for an operation that could cost over $1 billion to ensure that the majority of the Iraqi people who could run out of food in less than six weeks could meet their basic food needs.
"We may well soon be talking about the largest humanitarian operation in history," he said, warning that the level of funding did not augur well. WFP had some contacts with local staff members in northern Iraq, where it manages the general food distribution system, and it seemed work had effectively stopped, he added. WFP has also been assisting more than 630,000 vulnerable people there including school and malnourished children.
UNICEF said local staff in Baghdad today loaded two trucks with basic foodstuffs, including rice, flour, wheat and tinned meat for 600 and 800 orphans, children separated from their parents or with severe disabilities in four institutions. It was also trying to reach two other institutions in Kerbala, south of Baghdad.
"These places are often rather desperate," spokesman Geoffrey Keele said. "In the current very difficult circumstances we hope to be able to at least keep the children alive and keep an eye on their welfare."
The Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq estimated there could be 300,000 internal refugees in the three northern governorates of Erbil, Dohuk and Suleimaniyah, half of whom are coming from the centre-south. While 90 per cent are housed with relatives, the UN Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is distributing relief assistance and preparing camps, estimates that 10 per cent will need assistance.
Food and electricity may become a problem if distribution and services are interrupted, said spokeswoman Veronique Taveau. UNOPS has pre-positioned non-food items and UN national staff are working with local authorities to respond to existing needs. But, she warned that there was still a shortfall of $72 million for the emergency appeal covering the contingency plan of all UN agencies.
In Geneva, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that its Post Conflict Assessment Unit (PCAU) had begun an environmental desk study aimed at avoiding or mitigating risks to the environment and human health in Iraq. The study is likely to identify priorities related to the management of freshwater and waste, as well as means of preventing further ecosystem degradation. It will also identify and suggest possible responses to environmental hazards arising directly from the military conflict.
At UN Headquarters in New York, Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, added his voice to UN officials calling on all parties 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," he said.