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Iraq: ‘oil-for-food’ coordinator reports progress amid obstacles

Iraq: ‘oil-for-food’ coordinator reports progress amid obstacles

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme today reported mixed results from the "oil-for-food" effort, while stressing that overall, it had improved the lot of the country's people.

"Very sizeable quantities [of relief supplies] have gone in; on the other hand, there are also very sizeable problems still remain," Tun Myat told a press briefing in New York. Among the major obstacles facing the scheme - which allows Iraq to use a portion of its petroleum revenues to purchase humanitarian relief - was some $4 billion worth of contracts on hold in the Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions against Baghdad. The programme also faced difficulties in obtaining the required visas for its staff, he added.

Since the initiation of the programme in 1996, "there is general agreement that, notwithstanding the various difficulties we've had, the average lot of the people has improved."

"We're trying to fill a very tall order," explained Mr. Myat. "The sheer extent of the needs of the country are such that despite the oil revenues and the money that is available to the country, there seems to be a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done."

Asked about priority concerns, Mr. Myat said "all the food and all the medicines in the world" would not improve the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people in the absence of clean water and sanitation. "The biggest killer of children is not lack of food or medicine but of water and sanitation - clean water and sanitation are absolutely necessary for the children of the country," he stressed.

Commenting on "what life is like in Baghdad these days" given recent events, he said, "with all the things that are going on around the world, and all the news that is swirling, it is a little bit like living in the eye of a hurricane - so far the eye has not moved so I think all the swirling is around you rather than at you."