Humanitarian Meeting Iraq: Strengthening the humanitarian dialogue

Geneva, 15/16 February 2003

Out of concern for the civilian population affected by the ongoing crisis in Iraq and in the surrounding region, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey, two weeks ago proposed an emergency humanitarian meeting in Geneva that was held this weekend in order to provide a platform for humanitarian dialogue, reinforce humanitarian information-exchange and give prominence to the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. The meeting was organized by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and chaired by the Director-General of SDC, Ambassador Walter Fust.

Opening the meeting in front of more than 150 delegates from 30 countries and 20 international humanitarian aid organisations, - including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, - Minister Calmy-Rey pointed out that, "we, the international community, cannot just stand by and look on in indifference."

During the two days of discussions, in which the representatives of the neighbouring states of Iraq and humanitarian aid experts participated, the state of vulnerability of the civilian population in the region was assessed. This state was generally judged to be precarious, due, among other factors, to past conflicts and the consequences of economic sanctions. There was consensus that Iraq is already suffering a major humanitarian crisis, as exemplified by the poor state of the national infrastructure and the level of unmet basic needs (e.g. potable water, sanitation and sewage treatment, electricity supply, food security, the safeguarding of the environment, medical supplies and other health-related needs). The participants agreed that an armed conflict in the region would most probably impact heavily on the existing fragile situation of the civilian population in Iraq, with possible major consequences for the situation in the neighbouring countries.

Presentations were made by the major humanitarian actors concerned, including from the UN system, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs, on their contingency planning and preparedness measures that take into account, among other factors, the eventuality of an armed conflict. Neighbouring countries also raised their concerns about the consequences that they could be faced with in the event of a breakout of hostilities, while reminding participants of the global nature of the Iraq crisis and the need for an equitable burden-sharing among all States, especially with regards to refugees. In a further session, the importance of ensuring respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949, was strongly reaffirmed. The need to put the required resources at the disposal of humanitarian actors to cover their contingency planning and preparedness activities, as well as immediate needs, was also discussed, with donors expressing their awareness of the responsibility that falls upon them to disburse funds rapidly.

In closing the proceedings of the "Humanitarian Meeting Iraq," Chairman Ambassador Fust concluded that the meeting had been successful in several ways. Firstly, valuable information had been exchanged, the humanitarian agenda clarified and proposals made for the reinforcement of the humanitarian dialogue. The meeting also brought to the forefront the plight of the civilian population in Iraq and in the region. It was furthermore agreed that humanitarian dialogue should be continued and strengthened through a proposed "Humanitarian Issues Group Iraq." Such a group, if formed, will serve as a forum for exchange and will not duplicate but strengthen existing coordination mechanisms. Switzerland declared its readiness to promote and support such a group. Finally, the appropriate follow up to this "Humanitarian Meeting Iraq" would take place within the next few days.

Media and communications

Further information from Joachim Ahrens, SDC Spokesman, tel. 031 322 35 59