Iraq: UN's oil-for-food programme reports on progress, obstacles

Iraq: UN's oil-for-food programme reports on progress, obstacles

The United Nations humanitarian effort in Iraq -- known as the "oil-for-food" programme -- has improved the lives of the country's people, but more remains to be done to meet their needs, according to a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan released today.

"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 of the scheme, which allows Baghdad to sell its petroleum and use a portion of the revenues for relief aid. "I should like to reiterate, however, that the achievements of the programme should not lead us into a sense of complacency."

During the six-month period under review, Baghdad did not submit "a single application under the health, water and sanitation, education and oil sectors," Mr. Annan notes. The effect can be felt in each of those areas; for example, Iraq's educational system has steadily deteriorated while essential drugs and medical equipment are lacking.

The Secretary-General underscores Iraq's responsibility to give priority attention to the food, health and nutrition sectors. He adds that "with the size of revenues available to the programme, shortfalls in distribution of food basket items and essential medicines can no longer be justified."

Mr. Annan also appeals to the Security Council and its committee monitoring the sanctions against Baghdad to further streamline their current "cumbersome" approval procedures and allow greater latitude so that a wider variety of medicine, health supplies, foodstuffs, materials and supplies can be procured expeditiously.

The report details "a number of major difficulties" caused by the absence of a viable arrangement for procuring goods locally with cash. Locally produced agricultural items cannot be purchased under the programme, and the importation of food has discouraged local agricultural production. The Secretary-General expresses regret that there has been no progress on the arrangements for local procurement and a "cash component" which would address this situation. He appeals to Baghdad to work with the UN in developing "necessary and viable" working arrangements towards this end.

The Security Council held closed consultations on Iraq today, and Benon Sevan, the Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme, plans to present the report to the Council on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Iraq Programme released its weekly statistics today, showing that during the seven-day period leading up to 18 May, Iraq exported some 13.6 million barrels of oil, earning an estimated revenue of 365 million euros at current prices.