Madrid donors conference on Iraq: Statement by Mr. Jan Egeland, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

News and Press Release
Originally published
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the United Nations, I would like to thank the Spanish government and particularly you, Mr. Chairman, for hosting this forum and providing the UN an opportunity to present our efforts towards humanitarian needs in Iraq.

United Nations humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people is more than two decades old. This continued commitment to assist always has, and always will be, independent of the political circumstances at the time. The United Nations will now start a new and important phase in our humanitarian operations as we help build a bridge from emergency operations to reconstruction and development. Our future programmes will address the needs of vulnerable communities and support basic social services through expertise, in-kind assistance and capacity building for Iraqi institutions.

A key reason why we have not seen any major humanitarian crisis in recent years, nor see one today, has been the effective assistance UN agencies and NGOs, together with Iraqi partners, were able to deliver, thanks to resources from the Oil-for-Food programme and generous donor support under the Appeal. Since April alone, some two billion dollars worth of humanitarian assistance have been committed and delivered. And on 21 November, we will hand over the largest assistance programme in our history to Iraqi authorities and the CPA, the Oil-for-Food programme.

I am just returning from a short visit to Baghdad and Erbil where I met with our international and national staff, Red Cross and Red Crescent colleagues, other humanitarian partners, Iraqi authorities and the CPA. Our collective commitment as humanitarian agencies to meet needs in Iraq remains as strong as ever, despite the threats to our staff. Thanks to the great commitment and competence of our national staff, we have been able to continue a wide range of essential activities while only core international staff remain in Baghdad and Erbil after the attacks against our UN headquarters. Let me give you some examples:

  • Our support to the Public Distribution System has involved the delivery of more than two million tons of food and other commodities since April - it is hard to overstate how much this support has contributed to meeting basic needs and maintaining stability.

  • Some 15 million liters of water are being tankered every day to deprived areas of Baghdad, Basrah, Mosul and Kirkuk; fuel and chemicals are being delivered to support water and sewage facilities, many of which we are helping to rehabilitate.

  • An immunization campaign reached about one million children last month, and a campaign to support more than 1,100 primary health care centers started in late September.

  • The other programmes that are continuing include employment generation, rehabilitation in the electricity sector, assistance to IDPs, support to agriculture and a range of capacity building activities, assessments and surveys
There are many ways in which we have been able to support and implement these activities: first and foremost, through our more than 4,000 national staff who remain as committed as ever. We also work with and through the assistance of several dozen NGOs and the Iraqi private sector which is becoming an increasingly important partner for UN agencies. Our programmes are directed and supervised by several hundred international staff who for now have to work from neighbouring countries. They are in daily contact with their colleagues in Iraq as well as their counterparts in the CPA and Iraqi ministries.

Insecurity, however, is severely hampering our ability to operate and monitor our assistance. We have taken extensive measures to enhance the security of our facilities and staff since the attacks on 19 August and 22 September. But our ability to move around the country, and to interact directly with those in need remains very restricted. The security environment will remain the single most important factor that will determine our ability to initiate, monitor and carry out new assistance programmes. It is our hope that the security situation will allow a gradual and careful return of additional international staff, not only to Baghdad but also to the governorates in the north and south. We have stand-by arrangements that will enable us to react quickly to changing circumstances.

There are two key priorities the humanitarian community will pursue over the coming months. First, we must ensure that the basic needs of the most vulnerable parts of the population are met and that essential services like health and water and sanitation continue to improve. It is equally important to support education and food security. And second, we have to help build the capacity of Iraqi institutions to service the needs of their people, a key component of transitioning from humanitarian assistance to recovery and reconstruction. This is also exemplified by moving from food distribution to food security and agricultural support.

Clearly, we can only adopt a more needs-based approach if we know what the needs are and how we should prioritize them. The Needs Assessment Report that is being presented at this conference represents an excellent starting point, also for many areas of humanitarian assistance. More detailed assessments in all parts of the country are needed, many are already ongoing or being started. These systematic, on-the-ground assessments will allow Iraqi ministries, UN agencies and our humanitarian partners to target those with the greatest needs. We appeal for your support to fund these programmes in Iraq, as we ask you to not forget the enormous uncovered needs in Africa and other disaster stricken areas.

Mr. Chairman, providing expertise, training and other technical support to Iraqi partners will be our key objective in the coming months as it has been in virtually all our activities since April. We have been providing the bulk of our assistance through and to Iraqi ministries and local institutions, whether it is the food rations, drug supplies or emergency repairs. We want to strengthen our direct assistance to those institutions, through dedicated support programmes, training and other forms of technical advice and assistance. For us humanitarians, helping to build the capacity of national and local institutions is the best reconstruction assistance and guarantee that we will one day make ourselves obsolete. For the UN as a whole, it will help us achieve our common objective of a sovereign, democratic and peaceful Iraq.

Thank you very much.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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