Reporting a substantial shortfall in the funds available for the implementation of the United Nations humanitarian programme in Iraq, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on all parties concerned to overcome the problems hindering the effort.
In his latest report on the oil-for-food programme, which allows Baghdad to use a portion of its oil profits to purchase aid, the Secretary-General points out that although the current phase was budgeted at $5.5 billion, only about $2.2 billion has been made available. The shortfall is blamed on the recent decline in oil market prices as well as Iraq's low rate of export.
The report also draws attention to numerous problems plaguing the programme, which Mr. Annan points out "can and must do more in ameliorating the daily lives of average Iraqi citizens." These problems include slow contracting for essential supplies by both Baghdad and the UN as well as cumbersome procedures involved in formulating the plan for the distribution of aid. In addition, the Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions against Iraq has placed an "unacceptably high level" of holds on contracts for oil spare parts and humanitarian goods, with the total value of holds standing at over $4 billion.
"Programme implementation has also suffered from inordinate delays and/or refusal to grant the required visas and delays in the clearance of imports of essential supplies and equipment, particularly those required for programme implementation in the three northern governorates of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah," the Secretary-General notes. Between 1 July and 31 October, the Government granted only 106 of the 260 visas requested by the UN.
The Secretary-General appeals to all parties concerned to urgently address these difficulties. "I should also like to reiterate my appeal to all parties to refrain from politicizing the implementation of the programme and instead to concentrate all their efforts on maximizing the full benefits of the programme to the Iraqi people," he writes.
On the positive side, Mr. Annan reports "significant achievements" in the nutritional status of children in the three northern governorates, where the UN implements the programme on behalf of the Government. At the same time, he points out that the food basket includes infant formula for all families with young children, "which adversely affects breastfeeding practices, resulting in a high rate of malnutrition." This fact, combined with an inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure, has contributed more than a three-fold increase in the prevalence of diarrhoea among children, which is considered "one of the main causes" of Iraq's high child mortality rate.