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About the Programme

Fact Sheet

  • At the time of its termination on 21 November 2003, some $31 billion worth humanitarian supplies and equipment had been delivered to Iraq under the Oil-for-Food Programme, including $1.6 billion worth of oil industry spare parts and equipment. An additional $8.2 billion worth of supplies were in the production and delivery pipeline.
  • In August 1990, the Security Council adopted resolution 661, imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iraq following that country’s invasion of Kuwait. In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, the Secretary-General dispatched an inter-agency mission in order to assess the humanitarian needs arising in Iraq and Kuwait.  The mission visited Iraq from 10 to 17 March 1991 and reported that "the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine, if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met." (S/22366, para. 37).  Throughout 1991, with growing concern over the humanitarian situation in Iraq, the United Nations proposed measures to enable Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to meet its people's needs. The Government of Iraq declined these offers, contained in particular, in resolutions 706 (1991) and 712 (1991), adopted, respectively, in August and September 1991.
  • On 14 April 1995, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council adopted resolution 986, establishing the "Oil-for-Food" Programme, providing Iraq with another opportunity to sell oil to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods, and various mandated United Nations activities concerning Iraq. The Programme, as established by the Security Council, was intended to be a "temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, until the fulfillment by Iraq of the relevant Security Council resolutions, including notably resolution 687 (1991) of 3 April 1991".   
  • Although established in April 1995, the implementation of the Programme started only in December 1996, after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq on 20 May 1996 (S/1996/356). The first oil was exported under the Programme in December 1996 and the first shipment of supplies arrived under the Programme in March 1997.
  • The Programme was funded exclusively with the proceeds from Iraqi oil exports, authorised by the Security Council. In the initial stages of the Programme, Iraq was permitted to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months, with two-thirds of that amount to be used to meet Iraq’s humanitarian needs. In 1998, the limit on the level of Iraqi oil exports under the Programme was raised to $5.26 billion every six months, again with two-thirds of the oil proceeds to be earmarked to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. In December 1999, the ceiling on Iraqi oil exports under the Programme was completely removed by the Security Council.
  • Seventy two per cent of Iraqi oil export proceeds was allocated to the humanitarian Programme, of which 59% was earmarked for the contracting of supplies and equipment by the Government of Iraq for the 15 central and southern governorates and 13% for the three northern governorates, where the United Nations implemented the Programme on behalf of the Government of Iraq. Of the balance from total oil revenues, 25% was allocated to the Compensation Fund for war reparation payments, 2.2% for United Nations administrative and operational costs; and 0.8% for the weapons inspection programme.
  • The Office of the Iraq Programme, headed by an Executive Director, was responsible for the overall management and coordination of all United Nations humanitarian activities in Iraq under resolutions 661 (1990) and 986 (1995) and the procedures established by the Security Council and its Committee set up by resolution 661 (1990), as well as the MOU between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq.
  • The Office of the Iraq Programme administered the Programme as an operation separate and distinct from all other United Nations activities within the context of the former sanctions regime (see below),  within the purview of UNMOVIC, IAEA and the United Nations Compensation Commission.
  • The Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (UNOHCI) was an integral part of the Office of the Iraq Programme.  Reporting directly to the Executive Director of OIP, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq was responsible for the management and implementation of the Programme in the field.
  • Nine United Nations agencies and programmes were responsible for implementing the Programme in the three northern governorates. They are: FAO, UNESCO, WHO, ITU, UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, UNOPS, UN-Habitat.
  • On 28 May 2003, the Secretary-General (S/2003/576) pursuant to resolutions 1447 (2002), 1472 (2003) and 1476 (2003) presented the Programme's last 180-day report (Phase X111). Among other things, the report reflected on a difficult security situation and the withdrawal of international staff prior to the onset of war in March 2003. 
  • Over the life of the Programme, the Security Council expanded its initial emphasis on food and medicines to include infrastructure rehabilitation and activities in 24 sectors: food, food-handling, health, nutrition, electricity, agriculture and irrigation, education, transport and telecommunications, water and sanitation, housing, settlement rehabilitation (internally displaced persons — IDPs), demining, special allocation for especially vulnerable groups, and oil industry spare parts and equipment. The Government of Iraq introduced the following 10 new sectors in June 2002: construction, industry, labour and social affairs, Board of Youth and Sports, information, culture, religious affairs, justice, finance, and Central Bank of Iraq.
  • As of 20 March 2003, the Programme had helped to improve the overall socio-economic conditions of the Iraqi people countrywide. It prevented the further degradation of public services and infrastructure and in several areas, stabilised and improved access to such services.
  • In the food sector, the nutritional value of the monthly food basket distributed countrywide almost doubled between 1996 and 2002, from about 1,200 to about 2,200 kilocalories per person per day.
  • There were notable achievements in the health sector. Between 1997 and 2002, the capacity to undertake major surgeries increased by 40% and laboratory investigations by 25% in the centre and south of Iraq. Communicable diseases, including cholera, malaria, measles, mumps, meningitis and tuberculosis were reduced in the centre/south during this period. As of 29 May 2003 there had been no cases of polio in Iraq for more than three years. In the three northern governorates, cholera was eradicated and the incidence of malaria reduced to the 1991 level. Vaccinations reduced measles morbidity considerably.
  • In nutrition, malnutrition rates in 2002 in the centre/south were half those of 1996 among children under the age of five. Preliminary findings indicated that between 1996 and 2002 there was a reduction in the number of underweight children from 23%  to 10% ; chronic malnutrition from 32%  to 24%  and acute malnutrition from 11% to 5.4%. During the same period, in the three northern governorates, there was a 56% reduction in chronic malnutrition and a 44% reduction in the incidence of underweight children in the under-five age group. On 29 May 2003, UNICEF reported however that child malnutrition in Iraq almost doubled from four per cent to 7.7 percent between the onset of war - 20 March 2003 and 29 May 2003. The decline was attributed to broken public services and the lack of proper access to food, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.
  • Transportation: In the period to 20 March 2003, private and public road transport was rehabilitated to varying degrees, and safe, reliable inter-city public passenger transportation services were restored.
  • Water and sanitation: In the period to 20 March 2003, the deterioration of water facilities was halted. Oil-for-Food Programme supplies and equipment improved access to potable water, and helped to reduce the incidence of water-borne illnesses, including diarrhoeah.
  • Agriculture: In the period to 20 March 2003, agricultural improvements enabled large segments of the population to purchase produce at affordable prices. In the centre/south, poultry and egg production doubled. In the three northern governorates, Programme supplies contributed to a substantial increase in agricultural production.
  • Electricity: In the period to 20 March 2003, access to electricity was extended and supply became more reliable. During the summer of 2002, there were no planned power cuts in Baghdad City.
  • Telecommunication: In the period to 20 March 2003, improved infrastructure in the centre/south was reflected in the increased number of telephone calls placed successfully.
  • Education: In the period to 20 March 2003, the distribution of 1.2 million school desks met 60% of the needs at primary and secondary schools in the centre/south. This was a great improvement on the situation in 1996, when students at those schools were forced to sit on bare floors. In the three northern governorates, the Programme helped to increase primary school attendance by 32% between 1996 and 2002 and secondary school attendance by over 74% during the same period. Most schools operated in two rather than three shifts, as a result of the greater availability of educational facilities.
  • Residential construction:  In late 2002, housing construction in the centre/south was expected to reach 14,432,896 square metres, compared with 13,930,490 square metres in 1990 and 347,892 square metres in 1996. New construction also created jobs for skilled and unskilled workers. As part of the assistance provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and most vulnerable groups in the three northern governorates, 19,051 dwelling units were constructed between 1996 and early 2003 to house some 114,300 persons. Over the same period, new construction or repair affected some 685 schools and other educational facilities benefiting 190,000 students; 127 health centres for more than 120 communities and villages; 99 agricultural and veterinary facilities; 49 social and civic buildings; 853 kilometres of water systems and 2,800 kilometres of roads and bridges.
  • Demining activities: Between 1998 and 2002, the UNOPS Mine Action Programme cleared some 76,500 mines from 9.1 million square metres of land, of which 3.95 million square metres were returned to the local population for productive use. The programme also worked with some 2,000 mine accident and war victims, providing surgery, prosthetics and other rehabilitation services. Tens of thousands of women and children received Mine Risk education. Mined areas yet to be cleared were marked with warning signs. 
  • Despite its achievements however, the Oil-for-Food Programme was never intended to be a substitute for normal economic activity, and as of 20 March 2003, much remained to be done to improve humanitarian conditions for the Iraqi people. 

    Pre-War and Post-War Developments (2003) 

    On 17 March 2003, the United Nations Secretary-General announced that in view of warnings received from the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States, regarding the prospect of war and the continued safety and security of UN personnel present in the territory of Iraq, he was no longer in a position to guarantee their safety and security. All remaining UN international staff in Iraq were evacuated on 18 March 2003 and the President of the Security Council asked the Secretary General to submit proposals to adjust the mandate of the Oil-for-Food Programme so that it would have flexibility to meet new humanitarian challenges presented by the prospect of war in Iraq.  

    On 19 March 2003, the war in Iraq began with the bombing of Baghdad and on 20 March 2003, the Secretary General pledged to do his utmost to ensure that the UN rose to the challenge of shielding the civilian population "from the grim consequences of war."


    A resolution (1472) was adopted unanimously by the Security Council on 28 March 2003 adjusting the Oil-for-Food Programme and giving the Secretary-General authority to facilitate the delivery and receipt of goods contracted by the Government of Iraq for the humanitarian needs of its people. On 24 April 2003 those provisions were extended to 3 June. The extension under resolution 1476,(2003) gave the Office of the Iraq Programme and UN agencies, valuable time to identify and ship additional goods and supplies.


    The Security Council lifted civilian sanctions on Iraq on 22 May with the adoption of resolution 1483 (2003). The resolution also gave the Secretary-General authority to appoint a Special Representative to work with the occupying forces in rebuilding Iraq; opened the way for the resumption of oil exports, with revenues deposited in a Development Fund for Iraq held by the Central Bank; and provided for the termination of the Oil-for-Food Programme within six months, transferring responsibility for the administration of any remaining Programme activities to ‘the Authority’ representing the occupying powers. The Council called on the United Nations to assist the Iraqi people, in coordination with ‘the Authority’, in a wide range of areas, including humanitarian relief, reconstruction, infrastructure rehabilitation, legal and judicial reforms, human rights and the return of refugees, and also to assist with civilian police. 

    In its “phasedown” prior to closure on 21 November 2003, the Office of the Iraq Programme and UN agencies and programmes continued to identify and ship approved and funded priority items in a pipeline of humanitarian goods and supplies valued at some $8.2 billion.  

    As of 21 November, consultations between the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraqi experts and the United Nations, had resulted in the prioritization of more than 86 per cent of the contracts in the pipeline. Money to pay for these contracts remained in the UN/Iraq account, to be paid after the UN had confirmed the supplies were delivered to Iraq. Despite the closure of the Programme, deliveries of humanitarian items, including food were expected top continue well into 2004.

    (Updated 21 November 2003)