Fact sheet: Oil-for-food programme, Jan 2003

In August 1990 the Security Council adopted resolution 661[pdf* format], imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iraq following that country's invasion of Kuwait. In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, the Secretary-General dispatched an inter-agency mission in order to assess the humanitarian needs arising in Iraq and Kuwait. The mission visited Iraq from 10 to 17 March 1991 and reported that "the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine, if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met." (S/22366, para. 37). Throughout 1991, with growing concern over the humanitarian situation in Iraq, the United Nations proposed measures to enable Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to meet its people's needs. The Government of Iraq declined these offers, contained in particular, in resolutions 706 (1991)* and 712 (1991), adopted, respectively, in August and September 1991.
On 14 April 1995, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council adopted resolution 986, establishing the "oil-for-food" programme, providing Iraq with another opportunity to sell oil to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods, and various mandated United Nations activities concerning Iraq. The programme, as established by the Security Council, is intended to be a "temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, until the fulfillment by Iraq of the relevant Security Council resolutions, including notably resolution 687 (1991)*of 3 April 1991".

Although established in April 1995, the implementation of the programme started only in December 1996, after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)* between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq on 20 May 1996 (S/1996/356).

The programme is funded exclusively with proceeds from Iraqi oil exports, authorised by the Security Council. In the initial stages of the programme, Iraq was permitted to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months, with two-thirds of that amount to be used to meet Iraq's humanitarian needs. In 1998, the limit on the level of Iraqi oil exports under the programme was raised to $5.26 billion every six months, again with two-thirds of the oil proceeds to be earmarked to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. In December 1999, the ceiling on Iraqi oil exports under the programme was completely removed by the Security Council.

Currently 72% of Iraqi oil export proceeds goes to fund the humanitarian programme, of which 59% is earmarked for the contracting of supplies and equipment by the Government of Iraq for the 15 central and southern governorates and 13% for the three northern governorates, where the United Nations implements the programme on behalf of the Government of Iraq.

The Office of the Iraq Programme, headed by the Executive Director, is responsible for the overall management and coordination of all United Nations humanitarian activities in Iraq under resolutions 661 (1990) and 986 (1995) and the procedures established by the Security Council and its Committee set up by resolution 661 (1990), as well as the MOU between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq.

The Office of the Iraq Programme administers the programme as an operation separate and distinct from all other United Nations activities within the context of the sanctions regime, which fall within the purview of UNMOVIC, IAEA and the United Nations Compensation Commission.

The Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (UNOHCI) is an integral part of the Office of the Iraq Programme. Reporting directly to the Executive Director of OIP, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq is responsible for the management and the implementation of the programme in the field.

There are nine United Nations agencies and programmes involved in the programme. These are: FAO, UNESCO, WHO, ITU, UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, UNOPS, UN-Habitat.

Out of the total oil revenues, 25% goes to the Compensation Fund for war reparation payments, while 2.2% covers the United Nations administrative and operational costs for administering the programme and 0.8% is allocated to the weapons inspection programme.

To date, some $26 billion worth humanitarian supplies and equipment have been delivered to Iraq under the programme, including $1.6 billion worth of oil industry spare parts and equipment. An additional $10.4 billion worth of supplies are currently in the production and delivery pipeline.

The latest report of the Secretary-General on the programme, issued on 12 November 2002 (S/2002/1239) focuses on three main areas: (1) achievements made through the programme in improving the humanitarian situation in Iraq, as well as referring to some of the shortcomings and difficulties faced; (2) the persisting revenue shortfall in the programme; and (3) an assessment of the implementation of the new set of procedures for the processing and review of contracts for humanitarian supplies, introduced under Security Council resolution 1409 (2002) in May of this year, based on the Goods Review List (GRL). It is the first such assessment since the adoption of that resolution.

As outlined in the latest report of the Secretary-General, the programme has been expanded beyond its initial emphasis on food and medicines, both in terms of the level of funding and its scope and is presently also involved in infrastructure rehabilitation. It now covers 24 sectors: food, food-handling, health, nutrition, electricity, agriculture and irrigation, education, transport and telecommunications, water and sanitation, housing, settlement rehabilitation (internally displaced persons - IDPs), demining, special allocation for especially vulnerable groups, and oil industry spare parts and equipment. The Government of Iraq introduced the following 10 new sectors in June 2002: construction, industry, labour and social affairs, Board of Youth and Sports, information, culture, religious affairs, justice, finance, and Central Bank of Iraq.

The programme has helped to improve the overall socio-economic conditions of the Iraqi people countrywide. In addition, it has prevented the further degradation of public services and infrastructure. In several areas, the programme has stabilised and improved access to such services.

In the food sector, the nutritional value of the monthly food basket distributed countrywide has almost doubled since 1996, from about 1,200 to about 2,200 kilocalories per person per day.

There have been notable achievements in the health sector, and the health care delivery services have improved significantly. Compared to 1997, major surgeries have increased by 40% and laboratory investigations by 25% in the centre and south of Iraq. Also in the centre/south, there has been a reduction in such communicable diseases as cholera, malaria, measles, mumps, meningitis and tuberculosis. There have been no cases of polio countrywide in the last 32 months. In the three northern governorates, cholera has been eradicated and the incidence of malaria reduced to the 1991 level, while measles morbidity reduced considerably.

In nutrition, malnutrition rates in 2002 in the centre/south are half those of 1996 among children under the age of five. Preliminary findings indicate a reduction in the number of underweight children from 23% in 1996 to 10% in 2002, chronic malnutrition from 32% in 1996 to 24% in 2002 and acute malnutrition from 11% in 1996 to 5.4% in 2002. During the same period, in the three northern governorates, there has been a 20% reduction in acute malnutrition, a 56% reduction in chronic malnutrition and a 44% reduction in the incidence of underweight children in the under-five age group.

In transportation, private and public road transport has been rehabilitated to varying degrees, and safe and reliable inter-city public passenger transportation services have been restored.

The deterioration of water facilities has been halted, through programme supplies and equipment in the water and sanitation sector, resulting in improved access by consumers to potable water.

As a result of achievements in the agriculture sector, large segments of the population are able to supplement their diet with produce at affordable prices. In the centre/south, the production of poultry meat and eggs has doubled. In the three northern governorates, programme supplies have contributed to a substantial increase in agricultural production.

The situation in the electricity sector has been improving gradually, as evidenced by a more reliable supply of electricity to consumers. During the current year's summer peak, there were no planned power cuts in Baghdad City.

The telecommunication infrastructure in the centre/south continues to improve, with an increase in the number of telephone calls placed successfully.

In the education sector, the distribution of 1.2 million school desks has met 60% of the need at primary and secondary schools in the centre/south. This is a great improvement compared with the situation in 1996, when students at those schools were forced to sit on bare floors. In the three northern governorates, the programme has helped to increase primary school attendance by 32% between 1996 and 2002 and secondary school attendance by over 74% during the same period. Most schools operate in two rather than three shifts, as a result of the greater availability of educational facilities.

Residential construction in the centre/south is expected to reach 14,432,896 square metres at the end of 2002, compared with 13,930,490 square metres in 1990 and 347,892 square metres in 1996. It has also generated new jobs both for skilled and unskilled labour.

As part of the assistance provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and most vulnerable groups in the three northern governorates under the programme, 19,051 dwelling units have been constructed, benefiting 114,300 persons. In addition, community services provided include the construction or repair of 685 schools and other educational facilities benefiting 190,000 students, 127 health centres for more than 120 communities and villages, 99 agricultural and veterinary facilities, 49 social and civic buildings, 853 kilometres of water systems and 2,800 kilometres of roads and bridges connecting villages and communities.

Demining activities in the three northern governorates have resulted in the clearance of 1,434,213 square metres of land and the destruction of 1,018 anti-personnel landmines, the mine-free land being handed back to the landowners for agricultural and other civilian use. In addition, over 140,000 services of various types have been provided to mine victims, ranging from medical treatment and ortho-prosthetics to rehabilitation. Mine safety instruction courses have been provided to 240 communities, reaching 7,176 men, 8,353 women and 14,045 children.

Notwithstanding the significant achievements of the programme in improving the humanitarian condition of the Iraqi people compared to their dire plight in 1996, there still remains much to be done.

The oil-for-food programme was never intended to be a substitute for normal economic activity. As long as the comprehensive sanctions remain in force, however, there is no alternative to the programme for addressing the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Despite its shortcomings, the programme has and continues to make a major difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis.