Back from Iraq, UN official reports positive impact of ‘oil-for-food’ programme

Back from Iraq, UN official reports positive impact of ‘oil-for-food’ programme

The United Nations humanitarian effort in Iraq has made a significant positive impact on the country’s citizens, but much more must be done to help respond to their needs, according to the Executive Director of the oil-for-food programme, which allows Baghdad to use a portion of its petroleum revenues to purchase relief aid.

“Irrespective of all the complaints and/or criticisms levelled against it, the programme has indeed made, and continues to make, a considerable difference in the day-to-day life of the Iraqi people all over the country,” Mr. Sevan told a closed-door meeting of the Security Council today, according to the text of his remarks made available after the session.

Just back from an official visit to Iraq – his first since 1997 – the Executive Director said he had found “an ocean of difference” marked by improvements in a number of sectors. At the same time, he warned against complacency, stressing that it was “incumbent on all parties concerned to fully cooperate and to make a concerted and determined effort in order to maximize the benefits of the programme for the Iraqi people and mitigate, to the extent possible, the unintended consequences of the sanctions on the daily life of the average Iraqi citizen.”

Looking to the broader political context, Mr. Sevan said that during his discussions with UN colleagues working in the country, he “noted considerable anxiety over international media reports on developments concerning the region, particularly Iraq.” Some UN workers “would like to leave their posts,” while others who had professed an interest in assignments in Iraq were now hesitant to go. Potential contractors, he said, had indicated “that they were no longer interested in getting involved in our operations… specifically stating security concerns.”

On the positive side, he reported that “after a series of intensive and, indeed very difficult discussions,” agreement had been reached with the Government on the issue of visas for UN staff working in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Iraq Programme reported today that the total volume of Iraqi crude exports last week dropped to 10.3 million barrels. In his briefing, Mr. Sevan explained that the diminishing levels of exports was “most likely a consequence of retroactive pricing,” a policy which he said made it “much more difficult for contract holders to receive an abnormally high premium for Iraqi crude oil.”

He appealed to all parties, including the Baghdad Government, to resolve the issue “in order to avoid a disruption of oil exports from Iraq, which is the sole source of the revenues available to the programme.”