UN humanitarian agencies' local staff keep on working in Iraq

20 March 2003

Despite having withdrawn their international staff from Iraq, United Nations humanitarian agencies continued working inside the country today with local personnel.

In the first of daily briefings, in Amman, Jordan, on the humanitarian situation, the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 328 staff were continuing to work and prepare for the potential impact of conflict, using supplies propositioned in Iraq. The World Food Programme (WFP) said 800 national staff would continue to work as far as security conditions permit and food supplies last.

WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour said the agency believed most people have enough food to sustain them for up to six weeks in the south and centre of Iraq, where the government is in charge of the UN oil-for-food programme, under which Baghdad is allowed to use a portion of oil revenues to purchase food and humanitarian supplies. Outside Iraq, WFP has already secured enough supplies in neighbouring countries for two million people for one month, he added.

The WFP will also launch a phased series of humanitarian operations to ensure that the Iraqi people continue to receive their basic food needs, he said. As now envisioned, the operation could cost over $1 billion and aims to guarantee that the monthly food distribution system, the lifeline for the majority of the people in Iraq, continues to function.

“In a few weeks we may be called upon to sustain the operation of the monthly food rationing system in Iraq, possibly assisting the whole Iraqi population, up to 27 million people,” Mr. Mansour said.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said the agency had been working for months to prepare for the potential impact of conflict. Fifteen emergency health kits are already in place in Iraq, each containing supplies for the basic health care of 10,000 people for three months. In surrounding countries, kits to cover around 150,000 refugees for three months are in place and supplies for another 750,000 people are reported to be in the pipeline or available to be called on within a few days for use in Iraq.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had so far received no reports of refugees moving out of Iraq, although it has contingency plans based on an initial preparedness figure for 600,000. Spokesman Peter Kessler said UNHCR had made preparations with Iraq’s neighbours – Syria, Jordan, Iran and Turkey – to deal with the expected flow.

To help Iran cope, UNHCR announced it is releasing $1 million to prepare four campsites, each with a capacity for 15,000 refugees for a possible initial influx of 60,000 people. To the west, in Jordan, UNHCR is working with the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) to prepare Ruwaished refugee camp, 60 kilometres west of the border, for up to 5,000 Iraqi refugees within one week, and later for up to 10,000 people, enlarging it further as needed.

In Syria, El Hol camp, about 100 kilometres from the border, has an initial capacity for 4,000 to 5,000 people and will soon be ready to shelter up to 10,000 once on-going sanitation works is completed. UNHCR has four mobile teams in Turkey.

 

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