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UN official urges attention to Iraq's humanitarian plight

UN official urges attention to Iraq's humanitarian plight

Benon Sevan
With the global spotlight currently fixed on political developments in Iraq, a senior United Nations official today urged the Security Council to remember the plight of the country's beleaguered people.

“While, understandably, the current discussions are focused on the resumption of the weapons inspection regime, all concerned [should] also focus attention on the humanitarian dimension and spare no effort in meeting the dire humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people,” said Benon Sevan, the Executive Director of the UN’s Iraq Programme, to the closed-door consultations of the Council. The text of his remarks was released to the press.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Sevan said Council members had been responsive to his call. "I'm very happy that they all support fully the Secretary-General's appeal that at this time, while all attention is focused on the return of inspectors to Iraq, we should also provide equal focus and attention to the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people; the humanitarian dimension should not be forgotten."

Mr. Sevan said he expected the Council to extend the programme, which is set to expire on 25 November, for an additional six months.

Asked about plans by his office to prepare for a possible conflict in Iraq, Mr. Sevan said contingency plans were always under review. At the same time, he added, "we are concentrating on the return of the inspectors and the implementation of the humanitarian programme, and therefore we are not talking about inevitability of war."

To a question on the funding situation, Mr. Sevan noted that a chronic budget gap has left the UN with $3 billion worth of approved contracts "for which we have no money."

During the Council meeting, Mr. Sevan voiced concern over the lack of funding for the UN Guards Contingent operating in Iraq's three northern governorates. He appealed for voluntary contributions to keep the 89 guards from nine countries on the job, noting that they provide security and other essential support to UN staff. In the absence of new funding, the Guards Contingent will have to cease operations by early February, he warned.

The Executive Director also urged the Council to consider allowing commercial protection clauses in contracts between the Government of Iraq and its suppliers. He pointed out that the lack of those provisions has resulted in the delivery of medical supplies with a short shelf life, high protein biscuits and milk that fail quality control, and "foodstuffs that, while being safe for human consumption, are of an inferior quality to that contracted."

In a related development, the UN reported today that in the week ending 15 November, Iraq sold 8.3 million barrels of crude under the oil-for-food programme, earning an estimated revenue of €168 million (euros) or $169 million.