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Humanitarian plight of Iraqis needs Security Council attention, UN official says

Humanitarian plight of Iraqis needs Security Council attention, UN official says

The head of the United Nations relief programme for Iraq today urged members of the Security Council today to focus their attention on the plight of the country's people.

"I know it is difficult to try to depoliticize [the issue] but it is still possible to bear in mind the needs of the Iraqi civilian population to improve their humanitarian lot, which is in bad shape," said Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, which runs the "oil-for-food" scheme that allows Baghdad to use a portion of its petroleum revenues to purchase relief aid.

Speaking to reporters after briefing a closed-door meeting of the Council, Mr. Sevan called on all concerned to work to improve the relief effort for Iraq. "We can do better with this Programme than we have been doing so far, but to do that, to achieve that, we need the cooperation of all parties, be it the Council, be it the Government of Iraq - everybody," he said.

The Executive Director observed that today's meeting offered some cause for hope. "I was encouraged by this morning's discussion," he said, noting that a number of Council members had expressed support for the Secretary-General's recommendations "to remember the plight of the Iraqi people."

At the same time, Mr. Sevan warned that without concrete and results-oriented action, the situation would not improve. "We all know the sources of the difficulties," he said. "Unless they [Council members] do something about it at this session, I'm afraid the next 90-day report and the next 180-day report will be similar to the one we have just now before the Council," he said.

In his latest 180-day report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General says the Programme has improved the lives of the country's people, but emphasizes that more remains to be done to meet their needs.

"Over the past four years, the humanitarian programme has contributed not only to arresting the decline in, but also to improving, the living conditions of the average Iraqi," Mr. Annan writes in the report, released earlier this month. "I should like to reiterate, however, that the achievements of the programme should not lead us into a sense of complacency."