19 October 2000
Oil-for-Food Background Information
PRESS BRIEFING BY UN COORDINATOR IN IRAQ
The food distribution system in Iraq under the “oil for food” programme was second to none, but unless the basics -– housing, electricity, water, and sanitation -- were restored, the overall well-being of the people would not improve, Tun Myat, United Nations Coordinator in Iraq, told correspondents at a United Nations briefing this afternoon.
Noting that the programme had grown in leaps and bounds, he said he had returned to Headquarters to examine how best to improve it. He explained that three and a half years ago when it began, the “oil for food” programme had a humanitarian component valued at about $1.3 billion every six months. Currently, in Phase Eight, the humanitarian component of the programme was over $7 billion. The scope and extent of operations was far larger than envisaged. It covered major infrastructure areas, food, medicine, health, water and sanitation, agriculture, transportation, food handling, telecommunications, housing and electricity. The challenge was to make a programme designed for food to accommodate not only the large sums of money, but also the more complex sectors.
Recalling the Secretary-General’s expressed concern over the rise in the amount of holds placed by the Security Council Committee that monitored sanctions against Iraq, he said the value of the held contracts was now about $2.25 million. Oil sales to date were approximately $33 billion. He was concerned that some of the holds pertained to critical items. If those items were not made available, the programme would not have the desired impact.
Regarding the humanitarian situation in the country, he said that there had been considerable progress in the food and health sectors. The food distribution system was good and efficient -- second to none. It ensured that over 2,470 kilocalories was being made available every person. However, people were so poor that they sold part of their food ration. The upturn in nutrition was not happening. To achieve a major improvement, there had to be improvements in all the related sectors. He had come to present the case to the sanctions committee that his office had taken the initiative to observe things that were being brought into the country under the programme and reporting back as to whether the items were being used as designated. They had informed the Committee that they had made all the arrangements on the ground to cater to the information needs of the Committee. In return, he hoped the Committee would release the holds that were a major problem.
A correspondent asked if the question of recent humanitarian flights to Iraq had been broached in the discussions with the sanctions committee. How would those flights affect the humanitarian situation? he asked. Mr. Myat said inordinate attention had been given to those flights. In fact, humanitarian flights had always been permitted. The point at issue was whether such flights needed approval. The flights in question had given moral support more than anything else.
Were the flights a symbol of a wider crumbling of the sanctions? a correspondent asked. Mr. Myat said the flights needed to be put into perspective. In an average month, Iraq imported huge amounts of food and other materials -- 100,000 to 250,000 tons per month. The flights were symbolic. The confidence they gave was worth more than the physical value of the cargo.
In response to a question, he said he would like to think that the Iraqi Government was doing all it could to cooperate in the distribution of goods. Detailed observations were made in every sector of the country and food got to every one it was supposed to get to in the country.
He was asked how, with flights coming in and out and some without notification, he could keep tabs on or regulate what was coming into the country. Mr. Myat replied that it was not his job to regulate what came in and out. He did not enforce. What he did was implement the programme. Because there was no other United Nations office in Baghdad, he had been asked to attend to the arrival and departure of the planes, and provide manifests. The Executive Director of the programme, Benon Sevan, had sent a letter to the sanctions committee that the Coordinator’s office could follow the unannounced flights.
He was then asked if such flights increased and there was no information on how much of what was coming in, how the programme could continue to function properly. In terms of scope and scale, Mr. Myat said what was coming in on the planes was a miniscule part of the overall.
Asked about the distribution of medicine and medical supplies, he said that under the programme, medicine was brought in bulk for both the north and the south. Everything was distributed from a central warehouse through accredited pharmacies and regulated. Drugs were available through the pharmacies and hospitals. Many were free, but for some, patients were charged a nominal amount. If the question referred to expensive nasal sprays that had found their way to Syria and Lebanon, he said the case was being investigated.
Asked if it was his job to determine if the cargo was not contraband military goods, he explained his office did not certify the arrival of the goods. There were professional inspectors who did the inspections. He had suggested to the committee that the task be entrusted to them.
Asked why there was a difference in the distribution of goods whereby the Kurds in the north, who constituted 15 per cent of the population, received proportionally more than the rest of the country, he said that the Kurds received 19 per cent of the money, because the north had suffered greatly from the war and deserved a higher proportional amount. He thought that improvement in nutrition in the north was due to differences in distribution, or the fact that the United Nations was responsible for implementation of the programme in the north. The difference in geography, topography, vegetation, the greater availability of water and agricultural and the smaller population all contributed to the situation in Kurdistan. The south and centre of the country had serious difficulties with water and sanitation. In the extreme south, not much attention had been given to sanitation and water, and successive wars had taken their toll. Child mortality was far greater in the south and centre than in the north. There were many children with gastrointestinal diseases who were repeatedly hospitalized.
Asked whether the United Nations monitored luxury goods that reportedly came into Iraq through other countries, he said those things did not come through the “oil for food” programme. Everything that came under the programme was rigidly regulated. But Iraq had its own income, and the sales referred to might be purchased with Iraq’s money from other sources.
However, he added that the resolution programme was “the only game in town”. There was nothing else that much of the population could look to.
Asked if the Iraqis had a plan to stop the “oil for food” programme, he said he had no information to that effect.
In response to a question about his success or failure to convince the sanctions committee to release the holds on applications, he said he was very cognizant of the committee’s information requirements. The main responsibility of his office was to provide information to the committee, so that it did not feel that certain goods needed to be put on hold. The new observation mechanism should provide the committee with all the confidence it needed to release the holds.
Asked about security concerns, he said his office had tightened its security arrangements and the Government of Iraq took responsibility for the security of foreign personnel seriously and had reinforced the diplomatic detail on his office.
In reply to a question about whether the United Nations was satisfied with Government action regarding the man deemed responsible for the kidnapping and death of humanitarian personnel last June, he said he was still awaiting the Government’s official report.
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