Press Releases

    DSG/SM/198
    SC/7768
    IK/360
    23 May 2003

    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL REITERATES UN COMMITMENT
    TO AID IRAQIS, NOTES HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE DEPENDENT
    ON AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES

    NEW YORK, 22 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks, as delivered, by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to today’s Security Council meeting on "Response to the Humanitarian Situation in Iraq", in New York:

    I would like to begin by expressing our sorrow over the heavy loss of life, injuries and destruction caused by the powerful earthquake that struck Algeria yesterday. We extend our condolences to the families of the deceased and to the Government of Algeria.

    The United Nations is prepared to assist in any way it can. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has already provided an emergency cash grant of $50,000. A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team has been deployed to support the Algerian Government in coordinating the international response, and to assist in assessing priority needs. The United Nations has also contacted several governments, who have put Search and Rescue teams and relief supplies on stand-by to support the efforts of the Algerian Government.

    I wish to thank you for this opportunity to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the activities of the United Nations on the ground.

    Following my remarks, as you have indicated, my colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund will brief you. The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima, who has just returned from Baghdad, is also with us today. All of them would be pleased to respond to your questions.

    I would also like to acknowledge the presence of Jakob Kellenberger, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He and his colleagues did outstanding work during the conflict in Iraq, and will continue to be our close partners in the crucial period ahead.

    Let me start by stressing the strong commitment of the United Nations system to fulfilling the humanitarian, reconstruction and other mandates assigned to it in the resolution that you have just adopted.

    The humanitarian situation in Iraq remains very serious. The breakdown of essential services and law and order has resulted in a range of urgent needs.

    A major humanitarian crisis has been averted so far. But the civilian population -- and children in particular -- remain at risk, particularly if the security situation does not improve substantially in the near future.

    United Nations agencies are at work throughout the country, providing food, water, medicine and other emergency assistance. They have helped repair water and sanitation facilities, assisted in the restoration of electricity, and provided relief to internally displaced persons and malnourished children.

    I would like to pay special tribute to the courage and commitment of our 3,400 national staff, who continued to deliver essential supplies to hospitals, displaced populations and other vulnerable groups throughout the period of conflict.

    The United Nations ability to respond rapidly and effectively from the outset of the crisis was greatly enhanced by a range of preparedness measures. Inter-agency coordination resulted in joint planning and an integrated plan. Substantial quantities of humanitarian supplies were prepositioned inside Iraq and in several neighbouring countries. Iraq’s neighbours have also been helpful in ensuring the swift transit of supplies through five main access corridors.

    Since international staff started returning to Iraq one month ago, we have continued to expand our presence. More than 300 international staff have been deployed, with teams positioned in all five sub-regions.

    And as authorized by the Council, the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) has provided a wide range of support and services to United Nations agencies on their return to the country.

    The Humanitarian Coordinator and the Area Coordinators have been holding regular meetings with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations.

    In addition, sectoral coordination groups have been set up in priority areas with the involvement of relevant ministries, other Iraqi authorities, and representatives of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Coordination with the latter office in particular, and with military authorities, is crucial for ensuring both an effective humanitarian response and the safety and security of humanitarian staff.

    The overarching priority of virtually all our assistance efforts is the reactivation of essential public services. This includes not only health services, electricity and water supply, but also the public distribution system for food, on which much of the population depends for their survival. United Nations agencies are working in full support of the relevant Iraqi national authorities.

    One major constraint on public service providers has been the inability to pay salaries and other running costs. One-off payments of US$20 have been made in some locations, and we are encouraged by indications that a regular system of salary payments to public sector employees will begin shortly.

    The other problem, of course, has been the looting of a large number of essential public facilities. This leads me naturally to the question of security and law and order.

    The general lack of law and order has had a wide variety of humanitarian consequences. Ministries, water treatment plants, hospitals and warehouses have been devastated. Many facilities were repaired or restocked only to be looted again a few days later. Security concerns also include unexploded ordnance, which threatens the civilian population -- particularly children -- and impedes transport and a resumption of normal agricultural activities.

    The very fear of violence in many areas is making it more difficult and often impossible to deliver drugs and other essential supplies, and preventing people from going to work. We have also had first-hand reports about women who are afraid to go outside, and especially girls who are afraid to return to school.

    Such insecurity is also a major impediment to humanitarian assistance activities. With the movement of our staff limited in many urban areas, they cannot reach people in need. Several non-governmental organizations have been attacked in cities and on the main roads to Baghdad.

    The threat of violence has also resulted in population movements, such as the displacement of Iraqi Arabs from several areas. Such displacements highlight yet again the vulnerability of civilians in conflict and post-conflict environments to human rights violations and other threats. United Nations agencies, under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator, and working with the ICRC and non-governmental organizations, have drawn up a protection framework for internally displaced persons, returning refugees and other civilians at risk.

    Finally, I would like to say a word about Iraq’s cultural heritage. The destruction and looting that occurred in Baghdad and at archaeological sites, historic buildings, monuments and museums around the country was a tragedy. International experts working under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have just visited Baghdad and are now finalizing their report. We are all strongly committed to working with Iraqis and all concerned to protect and rehabilitate the country’s cultural heritage and to fight the illicit traffic of cultural property.

    Our ability to respond to the urgent needs I have outlined depends greatly on whether the necessary resources will be available. To date, more than $700 million has been received in response to our flash appeal, and I would like to thank donors for their generosity.

    Moreover, as implementation of Security Council resolution 1472 (2003) continues, the Office of the Iraq Programme and United Nations agencies have confirmed that nearly $1 billion worth of priority humanitarian supplies can be shipped by 3 June. As a result of the resolution that you have adopted today, additional priority supplies will be made available to the Iraqi people.

    At the same time, there remain significant gaps in funding for key priorities such as the re-establishment of the health system, nutrition programmes, water facilities and restoring the education system.

    As United Nations agencies continue to expand their presence in Iraq, they are conducting comprehensive assessments that will enable us to re-prioritize our response plans. Based on these new assessments, we will be launching a revised humanitarian appeal in the second half of June.

    In conclusion, Mr. President, let me stress that the United Nations and its agencies, funds and programmes are committed to doing their utmost to help the people of Iraq at their time of need. Thank you very much.

    * *** *