United Nations relief agencies opened a fourth food corridor into Iraq today while pledging help for re-opening schools and shifting focus from contingency preparations for a refugee exodus out of the country to the eventual repatriation of up to 500,000 people.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said 54 trucks with 2,700 tons of wheat flour started crossing the Syrian border at the Yaroubia border post, with 11 of them already over and on their way to Mosul, where they are expected later today.
“This is the first aid convoy from Syria since the war broke out in Iraq last month," Mohamed El-Kouhene, WFP Representative in Syria, said in Damascus. "WFP is grateful for the support it has received from the Syrian Government, which granted a number of facilities for the smooth export of locally-produced food commodities to Iraq."
Food corridors are already operating from Turkey, Iran and Jordan. WFP said its efforts to bring in aid were gaining momentum just in time. Although to date the agency had not received reports of extreme food shortages, it expected the most vulnerable Iraqis to exhaust their reserves by early May. About 60 per cent of the population – some 16 million people – depend on monthly food handouts that have been distributed under the Oil-for-Food programme for the past seven years.
Calling for Iraqi children to be allowed to resume their schooling without delay, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today pledged emergency education supplies for children and teachers, emergency repairs to water points and toilets, and sports kits.
“Yes, the challenges are huge," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a statement issued in Paris and Geneva. "But it's 9 a.m. in Iraq, and the children are going back to school. Iraq is getting back to business. We need to support this impulse."
Praising "the innate wisdom" of Iraqi parents and educators pushing for the prompt resumption of classes throughout the country, she added: “I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of re-establishing and strengthening schooling at the earliest possible date.
“Schools have a vital role in the recovery effort, not only because of their educational function, but as centres around which communities can begin to heal themselves, while serving as entry points for interventions like health education, psychosocial support and nutritional assistance," she added.
For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was shifting its primary focus from contingency preparations for a possible refugee influx into neighbouring states to laying the groundwork for the eventual return of up to 500,000 of the 900,000 long-term Iraqi refugees now in the immediate region and beyond.
“So when the political climate is right and we see an environment that’s conducive to voluntary return – and I should emphasize that we’re a long way from that right now – UNHCR wants to be ready,” spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.
But he also warned that UNHCR still had to be prepared for any possible outflow because of continuing insecurity and religious and ethnic tensions and was therefore maintaining for the time being its current levels of readiness in neighbouring countries.
The budget for preliminary repatriation and reintegration was $118 million over eight months, he added.