"The [Security] Council meets today to mark the completion of one of the largest, most complex and most unusual tasks it has ever entrusted to the Secretariat - the only humanitarian programme ever to have been funded entirely from resources belonging to the nation it was designed to help," Mr. Annan told a meeting of the 15-member body.
"The mandate you gave us - to assume temporary custody of Iraq's oil exports and apply the revenue to a humanitarian programme - is unprecedented in the history of the United Nations," he said of the scheme, adopted in 1996 and which used Iraqi oil revenues to purchase and manage $46 billion worth of humanitarian assistance, supplies and projects.
In a statement read by its President for November, Ambassador Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins of Angola, the Council underlined the “exceptionally important role of the programme in providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraqi” under the sanctions.
The Council statement also emphasized the need for continued international efforts aimed at the country's reconstruction and noted the statements made by the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom on the measures which the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) intends to take in order to continue the payment mechanisms and the deliveries under the programme.
The programme, the largest the UN has ever administered in financial terms, will transfer operational responsibility, including all humanitarian projects funded by oil revenues, assets ranging from schools to power stations and all contracts with suppliers, to the United States-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as of midnight tomorrow.
The programme, which allowed the Government of Iraq to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies and served as the sole source of sustenance for 60 per cent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people, became obsolete after resolution 1483 in May lifted sanctions imposed on Baghdad for its 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
"During these seven years, the programme delivered food rations sufficient to feed all 27 million Iraqi residents," Mr. Annan declared. "As a result, the malnutrition rate among Iraqi children was halved. National vaccination campaigns reduced child mortality from preventable diseases. As of today, there have been no reported cases of polio in Iraq for almost three years," he added.
"Electricity blackouts in Baghdad were reduced under peak summer loads. Clean water became more available for personal use. And the programme enabled the overcrowded schools throughout the country to operate in two shifts instead of three."
Noting that the bulk of all the work performed by the programme in Iraq was carried out by Iraqi nationals working for the UN, Mr. Annan expressed his "admiration for the competence, loyalty and devotion of our national staff, many of whom have incurred considerable risks in carrying out the programme. Indeed, a significant number have lost their lives, and I pay special tribute to them," he added.
"We take pride in the fact that we have achieved an orderly handover of such a large and expensive programme, on time and in spite of the current insecurity in Iraq," he declared. "Especially since the cruel loss of life and injuries to our local and international staff on 19 August, all of us at the United Nations now feel intimately connected to the trauma that Iraqis are living through day by day.
"We are closing the Oil-for-Food programme, but we remain determined to continue helping Iraq's long-suffering people in whatever ways are still open to us," he concluded.