UN’s humanitarian activities in Iraq quietly save lives – senior official

Staffan de Mistura briefs the press

19 October 2005 – United Nations humanitarian relief activities are being carried out in Iraq below the media radar for security reasons, but these quiet efforts to provide clean water, sanitation, health services and education are achieving great results, including the absence of cholera and polio, a senior UN official based in the region said today.

“Everything is done in a discreet way because what matters is trying to have an impact rather than to have visibility,” Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, told reporters at the world body’s Headquarters in New York. “What for us is a priority are the results.”

Aiming to “make a difference for the Iraqi people,” a survey was conducted to canvass their needs. In addition to citing concerns about security and employment, the 22,000 respondents identified water, sanitation, education and health for priority attention. “These are the areas where, in everyday life, they feel they would like to see a difference, starting from now, even if the situation is not stabilized,” Mr. de Mistura explained.

Channelling its energy into projects in these areas, the UN has achieved concrete results. “There is no cholera in Iraq, and you should be very surprised, because with sewage basically in open air all over Iraq, with a temperature of 52 or 54 degrees (centigrade) of heat in Iraq during many months, that would be a classical area where you would have it,” the envoy said.

He attributed this success to the daily chlorination of water through a $22 million operation carried out by UN agencies together with the Iraqis.

“There is no polio in Iraq, and you should be surprised,” he continued, noting that the disease can be found in the region. “In the worst period of some of the shooting and fighting, we had a two-week massive vaccination campaign organized together with the Iraqi authorities and by the UN agencies, vaccinating 4.9 million children,” he said.

As part of that campaign, 5 million messages were sent free of charge to cell phones to tell families to bring their child in for vaccination.

Again, the operation was carried out with no fanfare. “We didn’t talk about it and we didn’t want to show it happening at that moment because we needed to make it happen.”

In the educational arena, this year, 7.9 million boys and girls went to school, and each was provided a bag with supplies, while close to 6 millions textbooks were printed. Over 200 schools have been partially restored, and 115 fully restored. “You’re not seeing it because naturally good news doesn’t necessarily make news, but children are going to schools,” Mr. de Mistura pointed out.

Malaria is under control in Iraq – another surprise success thanks to programmes being implemented “discreetly on the ground,” Mr. de Mistura reported. In addition, 3,500 tons of high-protein biscuits have been distributed to 1.2 million children and 400,000 pregnant mothers In Iraq, while a wheat flour fortification plan is also being launched to support nutrition. In the north, 90 per cent of salt has been iodinated.

The future, he stressed, is in the hands of the Iraqis, who he credited with having great stamina and ability to rebuild their country. “They’ve got 5,000 years of tradition, 200 billion barrels of oil, very bright people who are engineers, doctors, lawyers – capable people – what they need is just a moment of stability,” he said. “What we are doing now is just helping them to reach that point.”

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