UK humanitarian assistance to Iraq update Feb 2003

DFID's regular funding to the UN and other humanitarian agencies includes provision for emergency preparedness for a variety of contingencies across the world. In February 2003 DFID supplemented this funding with an additional =A33.5 million contribution to support UN humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq. This money has been allocated to a range of UN agencies as follows;

=A31 million
=A31 million
=A30.75 million
=A30.5 million
=A30.15 million
=A30.1 million

To read the International Development Committee Enquiry Memo, please see below.


Memorandum submitted in advance of evidence from the Secretary of State for International Development (to be given on 12 February 2003)


1. The Department for International Development has been working with others over many months to prepare for a range of humanitarian contingencies. Many of the agencies concerned do not wish this work to be made public. There has been increased attention given to the humanitarian situation facing the Iraqi people in recent weeks. Contingency planning includes work to try to minimise the humanitarian risks to the Iraqi people as a consequence of any military action. Until recently, UN agencies and other humanitarian partners have had concerns about discussing preparations freely. Like them, we are very concerned about the current fragile state of the Iraqi people which increases the risk of humanitarian disaster.

Commitment to humanitarian assistance

2. The Government's objectives on Iraq were set out to the House in a written statement by Jack Straw on 7 January (attached at Appendix A).

3. DFID is working with others to try to prepare for the humanitarian consequences of military action. There are many possible scenarios: conflict could be short or protracted; it is also possible that disarmament could be achieved without conflict. This might or might not involve regime change. It is still possible that Saddam will comply with relevant Security Council Resolutions and the UN will move to a process of lifting sanctions. There are therefore a very wide range of possible scenarios which means that humanitarian preparation requires considerable flexibility.

4. The current fragile state of the Iraqi people is well documented. Its population is largely dependent on food handouts, its agricultural sector operating way below capacity. Almost a third of all children in the centre and south suffer from chronic malnutrition. The prevalence of low birth-weight babies has increased more than five times in the last ten years. Iraq's under-five mortality rate is 131 per 1,000 live births - worse than the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mozambique. Deaths from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections - both easily preventable - account for 70% of child mortality. More than half of Iraqis living in rural areas have no access to safe water.

The average Iraqi child under 5 suffers from 14 bouts of diarrhoea per year. The infrastructure is in chronic disrepair. Hospitals, clinics, sanitation facilities, water treatment plants - all suffer from a terrible lack of maintenance. The result is that the Iraqi people's lives are perilously fragile - their private coping strategies worn away by years of misrule; the public facilities to help them cope, run down often to the point of uselessness. Our existing humanitarian programme, supporting NGOs such as CARE and Save The Children and UN agencies in Northern Iraq, the Centre/South and Western Iran (where we fund work with Iraqi refugees), has provided limited mitigation. The UK has provided over =A3100m of bilateral humanitarian assistance to Iraq since 1991, and an additional =A315m via the EC. The Government has worked for the introduction of, and improvements to, the UN Oil For Food programme to lessen the humanitarian impact of sanctions.

Humanitarian risks of conflict

5. Contingency planning aims to minimise the humanitarian risks of any conflict. There is a range of possible risks to consider. One is the possibility of large-scale fighting with substantial civilian casualties - particularly in urban areas. There is also a risk of the use of chemical or biological weapons - or inadvertent release of CBW materials - with the deeply worrying and unpredictable consequences that could entail. Disruption to the Oil For Food programme, on which 60% of the Iraqi population are currently dependent - due to instability following conflict, or in the longer-term if oil production is curtailed, is another risk. Electricity, transport links and other infrastructure essential to the delivery of basic services could be seriously damaged - affecting, for example provision of clean water, the pumping of sewage, the delivery of food and the functioning of hospitals. Other risks include large-scale movement of people, both within Iraq and into neighbouring countries, and internal ethnic and political conflict.

6. There is a particular risk running across all the others, which is that under some circumstances, such as the use of chemical and biological weapons, no traditional humanitarian actors - UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, international NGOs - will be fully operational. Under these circumstances, military oversight, or direct delivery, of humanitarian aid may be necessary. Our contingency planning has partly been informed by an assessment of which agencies are most likely to be able to operate in such a high-risk environment.

Planning across the UK Government

7. The Department For International Development is in regular contact with the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces about ways in which the humanitarian risks of military action to the Iraqi people can be reduced. There are extensive discussions across Government, at ministerial and official level, about how military strategy can minimise and mitigate these risks, and fulfil the Government's objective to continue to support humanitarian efforts to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. These discussions include ways in which the military might facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance in an environment where traditional humanitarian actors are not present. Planning also takes account of the Government's continuing commitment to full respect for international humanitarian law, and lessons learnt from the humanitarian issues which arose during and after conflict in Afghanistan and Kosovo. It is not possible to go into the details of military planning for the purposes of this enquiry.

8. The Government has made clear its strong desire to address the threat of Iraq through the United Nations. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office leads on the UK position on UN Security Council resolutions, including those which have implications for the humanitarian situation in Iraq, such as those governing the UN Oil For Food (OFF) programme. The Department For International Development works closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on these issues. Contingency planning involves looking at how disruption to the delivery of essential services provided by OFF to the Iraqi people can be minimised. The Government anticipates a leading role for the UN in such circumstances.

9. DTI and other government departments are considering the implications of possible disruption to, or changes in, the current UN sanctions regime on the flow of humanitarian goods into Iraq and the region. The government will communicate any changes in policy on this issue to relevant UK organisations as soon as possible.

Planning across the international humanitarian system

10. The Government is consulting with UN agencies, the USA and others to make preparations for the international coordination which would be essential for an effective response to any humanitarian crisis.

11. The Government's policy is to support a strong UN role in humanitarian work wherever possible. UN planning for a range of humanitarian contingencies is now developing. It includes detailed scenario planning, prepositioning of stocks, human resource preparedness, liaison with a range of potential partners including the governments of neighbouring countries, and the appointment of a humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Mr Ramiro Lopez da Silva. The UN has been careful not to make any assumptions about the outcome of the weapons inspection process and future Security Council discussions, and it prefers to keep much of the detail of its planning confidential. The Government respects that confidentiality, but it is also prudent for all appropriate agencies to prepare in a cost-effective way for a variety of humanitarian scenarios, including the outbreak of hostilities.

12. DFID has long-term funding relationships with most of these agencies, which include provision for emergency preparedness. DFID has announced an additional =A33.5m contribution to support UN humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq. This money will be allocated to a range of UN agencies likely to include UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, WHO, OCHA and UNSECOORD. The Secretary of State for International Development has held discussions on humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq with the heads of UN, OCHA, UNDP and other agencies. DFID officials remain in close contact with all these agencies, and review their state of preparedness and funding needs on a regular basis.

13. Contingency plans are also being drawn up for the large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people which conflict may produce. Responsibility within the international system for this work rests with UNHCR and neighbouring countries. UNHCR is involved in delicate discussions with most of Iraq's neighbours. It would not be appropriate to go into the details of these discussions, given the political sensitivities for the countries concerned.

14. The Government is also in regular contact with the USA at a range of levels and with a range of different parts of the Administration about humanitarian issues. These contacts are intensifying, and include discussions between our respective armed forces.

15. There have been questions as to why the Government has not been intensifying contacts with British NGOs to discuss mutual humanitarian planning. There have been some informal contacts but detailed discussion on much of the preparatory work is not possible. The scenarios are complicated, there are limits to how much information it is possible to share. We also need to be realistic about the roles NGOs might play under some of these scenarios. We do of course maintain contact with the NGOs we already fund across Iraq. Much of the humanitarian assistance the Government has provided to Iraq since 1991 has been through NGOs. DFID officials will be meeting a group of NGOs to discuss Iraq shortly.

Resources to respond to humanitarian consequences of conflict

16. The UK will play its part in any international humanitarian response. We are likely to do so through working with others, particularly the UN, as part of a joint effort, not as a major bilateral player.

17. The Government does not pre-allocate resources for specific humanitarian crises. DFID's budget includes a contingency reserve of =A3100m per year which would be drawn upon to provide additional assistance as necessary. It would clearly be wrong to consider withdrawing DFID funding from other humanitarian emergencies or development efforts in other parts of the world. There are currently serious humanitarian crises in southern Africa, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and the West Bank/Gaza, and both the international humanitarian system and DFID resources are highly stretched.

Department For International Development

12 February 2003
Appendix A


The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw): As I have made clear to the House on a number of occasions, our policy on Iraq is to ensure Iraq complies with its obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs), including by giving up its weapons of mass destruction. I thought, however, that the House would now appreciate a more detailed statement of the Government's objectives on Iraq.

Our prime objective is to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their associated programmes and means of delivery, including prohibited ballistic missiles (BM), as set out in UNSCRs. This would reduce Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbours and the region, and prevent Iraq using WMD against its own people. UNSCRs also require Iraq to renounce terrorism, and return captured Kuwaitis and property taken from Kuwait.

These UNSCRs are an expression of the will of the international community, with which Iraq has persistently failed to comply, thereby perpetuating the threat to international peace and security.

A further objective is to maintain the authority of the United Nations by demonstrating the Security Council's effective response to the challenge posed by Iraq's non-compliance. Success in achieving our prime objective should help deter the proliferation of WMD and BM more generally.

We have pursued these objectives through the United Nations, culminating in the unanimous adoption by the Security Council of UNSCR 1441 (2002) on 8 November 2002.

Our immediate priorities are to:

a) Support the work of the UNMOVIC/IAEA inspectors in Iraq;

b) Enable UNMOVIC/IAEA to institute long-term measures to ensure compliance as part of their Ongoing Monitoring and Verification regime; c) Maintain international solidarity behind the United Nations Security Council and support for effective UNMOVIC/IAEA action;

d) Preserve regional stability;

e) Continue to make military plans and preparations in case military action is required to enforce compliance by Iraq with its WMD/BM obligations under UNSCRs;

f) Continue to support humanitarian efforts to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people.

We would like Iraq to become a stable, united and law abiding state, within its present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or to international security, abiding by all its international obligations and providing effective and representative government for its own people.

These objectives are consistent with wider government policy which includes:

a) Efforts to resolve other causes of regional instability, including the Middle East Peace Process;

b) Wider political engagement with Arab countries and the Islamic world;

c) Efforts to counter the proliferation of WMD; and

d) The elimination of terrorism as a force in international affairs.

To achieve our objectives we will act in conformity with international law, including the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian law.

Consistent with the above, we are working intensively with our allies and partners to secure the peaceful disarmament of Iraq's WMD by means of UNMOVIC/IAEA inspections. But as SCR 1441 makes clear, if the Iraqi regime does not comply, it will face serious consequences.