Press Releases

    31 March 2003

    Transcript of Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at United Nations Headquarters, 28 March 2003

    Mr. Eckhard: The Deputy Secretary-General is at the podium. To her right is Mark Malloch Brown, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme; to his right is Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund; to her right is Phillip Ward of the World Food Programme. To the left of the Deputy Secretary-General is Kenzo Oshima, the Emergency Relief Coordinator; to his left is Benon Sevan, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: This is quite a crowd on the podium -- I hope you see it first as an indication that this humanitarian challenge in Iraq is one that involves many parts of the United Nations system, but you also see that as an indication that we really are working as a team and that we're making every effort to make sure that all our actions are really closely coordinated. But, we thought that it was important that you had access to all the agencies for the more specific questions you may have on the appeal and our activities at this stage.

    You may remember that, when we asked for funds to enable United Nations humanitarian agencies to prepare for a possible new conflict in Iraq, we indicated that if and when conflict actually broke out we would have to come back and ask for much larger sums to fund the actual relief operations.

    Now that moment has arrived. As you know, the war has been raging for more than a week. The humanitarian impact is already being felt and could grow much worse in the days and weeks to come.

    But the extent and nature of its needs is still very hard to assess. At the moment, we have only fragmentary information about conditions inside the country, and, of course, we do not know how the fighting will develop from here.

    To give just one example of the uncertainties, at this point there are hardly any refugees, or a very small number, in the sense of people fleeing Iraq for neighbouring countries. But we cannot assume that will continue to be the case. That is why we have continued to base our assumption on a medium-case scenario to ensure that we are prepared for all eventualities.

    A separate set of uncertainties relate to the availability of supplies and funds under the "oil-for-food" programme. As you know, the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution today, I am told, any minute now, that will give limited authority to the Secretary-General, for a limited period of time, to adjust the programme so that as much as possible of the supplies already in the pipeline can still reach the people of Iraq, in spite of the altered circumstances.

    We will not know with any degree of certainty what supplies can actually be shipped in the 45-day period stipulated in the resolution until we have contacted the suppliers to establish where the supplies have got to, whether they are still available, when and where they could arrive in Iraq and at what extra cost.

    Mr. Sevan is here to answer any more detailed questions on this that you may have.

    Now, if this process reveals that a large amount of food can indeed be delivered to Iraq very quickly, then the amount we are asking from donors for food purchases may be reduced. But even in that case, the non-food items in this appeal would not be significantly affected.

    You have the appeal document in front of you, so I will only very briefly highlight the key elements for you:

    The total amount is $2.2 billion, which is what our preliminary estimates suggest will be required to assist Iraq between now and the end of August. This figure will be kept under constant review, given the uncertainties that I mentioned a minute ago.

    That amount includes $1.3 billion for food aid -- an amount which could be reduced, depending on the quantity of food coming in through the oil-for-food programme. Our planning is premised on the need for the World Food Programme, over these six months, to assume responsibility for feeding most of Iraq's population and this requires 430,000 tonnes of food per month.

    The second part of the appeal covers requirements other than food, including provisions for refugees, internally displaced people and other especially vulnerable groups, both inside Iraq and in neighbouring countries. Among the most urgent tasks are:

    • providing safe drinking water to the general population;
    • attending to the health and nutrition needs of children, nursing mothers, the elderly and infirm;
    • providing shelter;
    • clearing landmines; and
    • carrying out emergency repairs to Iraq's infrastructure.

    The document shows how these tasks are shared among the various United Nations agencies, and thus what share of the money each of them will need. But it also shows that the United Nations will be working in partnership with the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and with international non-governmental organizations. Of course, they too also need funds, and we hope their appeals will also be generously supported.

    In conclusion, I'd like to make two points.

    One is that the war in Iraq in no way reduces the suffering or the needs of people affected by other emergencies in other parts of the world -- which, as the Secretary-General told the Security Council on Wednesday, may be less newsworthy but are no less devastating for those directly involved. Therefore, it is vital that the response to this appeal -- the one we're launching this morning, which I hope will be swift and generous -- should be genuinely additional to, and not at the expense of, the efforts that donors are already making to relieve those other victims.

    My second point to remind everyone that, while United Nations international staff have been temporarily withdrawn from Iraq, we have more than 3,000 national staff in Iraq. Our agencies are keeping contact with them and report that all those who can are continuing to provide assistance and support to Iraqi people.

    Thank you very much for your attention. We are now ready to take your questions.

    Mr. Eckhard: The first question will go the head of the Correspondents' Association, Tony Jenkins of L'Espresso Portugal.

    Question: Mme. Fréchette, thank you for coming. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is the responsibility of an occupying belligerent Power to take care of humanitarian needs. The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, and Britain is the fourth wealthiest country in the world. Why is it falling to you and your agencies to take care of this humanitarian responsibility?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I think if you look at the draft resolution the Council is about to adopt, the point that you raise is made very clearly. At the same time, there is a desire on the part of many members of the international community to be able to contribute and to contribute to the international humanitarian organizations, particularly the United Nations. Therefore, our appeal does not in any way reduce the responsibility that the belligerent forces have under the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, some of these countries may very well decide to fulfil their obligations by providing funds for humanitarian relief through the United Nations system. I believe that a number of the members of the coalition have already indicated their intention to contribute to this appeal, as have many other countries.

    Question: I would be curious to see whether, with the prolonged fighting, you are considering readjusting the medium-case scenario. Also, I think there is a lot of confusion among all the reporters who have been covering this as to why the Council is just about to pass this resolution freeing up over $10 billion-worth of goods that can be imported into Iraq. I understand that not all of that is the most urgent -- food and that sort of thing -- but it is still, I think, $2.4 billion for food.

    It is not clear why you are not going to Mr. Sevan to figure out where to get this money, because it seems to us like there is plenty of money in that pot to finance these things you are talking about. You mentioned that the cost might go down a little, but can you give us any clearer sense of how much your budgets for the projections that you are undertaking -- and also he has a budget for how he is going to spend that $10 billion -- can you give us any indication as to what is not included in the oil-for-food budget that you are going to need in addition?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: First, on the scenario, for the time being we continue to believe the scenario we used to prepare our emergency plans is still the best workable scenario to work from, but, as I indicated, we will keep our planning and our projections under constant review and be ready to adjust both our operations and our estimates of needs and costs accordingly.

    Secondly, with the oil-for-food programme, let us be clear. First, it is not $10 billion of free, unencumbered funds in the oil-for-food programme. What we have said, and let me repeat, is that there is about $10 billion-worth of approved contracts for which there is money -- encumbered money vis-à-vis those contracts. There is an additional $5.4 billion-worth of contracts that have been approved, but for which there is no money. So it is not a big pot of unallocated money from which we can draw.

    Also, what the Security Council is about to adopt is a resolution that allows the Secretary-General to look at all the contracts in this pipeline to identify -- out of this very long list of contracts -- which are the ones that are necessary and urgently required to meet the needs of the Iraqi population under these new circumstances. It also authorizes the Secretary-General to contact the suppliers, to determine where the goods are and to adjust the contracts. There are some unencumbered funds in the programme. These may be used to pay for, perhaps, additional costs connected to contracts and additional administrative costs that we may incur. It also says that the sanctions Committee -- the 661 Committee -- is ready to consider requests for new contracts for emergency supplies and goods that are not currently in the pipeline. So I think one has to guard against this notion that there is a great large amount of money. There are limits to how much one can play with what is in the pipeline.

    Thirdly, the fact that we now have a war situation on the ground is creating new and different requirements that were not anticipated when all these contracts were entered into, either by the United Nations for the North or by the Government of Iraq in the South. To take one example: Carol Bellamy always reminds us that one of the first requirements in wartime situations is often to restore or to provide potable water, which will require all kinds of equipment that was never put into the order list of the oil-for-food programme.

    Now, I shall ask my colleagues to explain a little and give you more examples, but that is why, in any case, there are additional and new requirements that have to be met through this appeal for extra funds. No matter what happens to the oil-for-food programme, you would not find that in the current pipeline.

    Ms. Bellamy: If I might, just as an example. Under oil for food, you could procure supplies such as pipes for water. In a humanitarian crisis, what you need are water bladders. You need water and you need water purification, and you need water tankers. That is not covered under oil for food. Just an example.

    Question: [unintelligible] $2.5 billion for food that is already in the pipeline. This is food already. So doesn't that cover at least part of what you are looking for?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I'll ask Philip Ward to address that. There are $2.4 billion-worth of contracts, papers that we have, that say this is about food. We do not know yet how much of that is actually going to come, because until the Security Council gives us the authority to go directly to the supplier and establish what is actually in the pipeline, all we can say is that the value of the contracts on paper that we have is $2.4 billion, but that does not necessarily mean that there is $2.4 billion-worth of supplies that are actually going to be on their way to Iraq in the foreseeable future.

    Mr. Ward: I would just like to emphasize here the enormity of the task we are looking at. In the food sector alone, we are looking at a programme of $1.3 billion over the next six-month period. The reason for that, of course, is the need to continue to keep the public food distribution system going in Iraq and to support it with a food pipeline. Now, of course, many of these commodities may come from the oil-for-food programme. We are looking forward very much to the Security Council resolution that would give us that authority.

    I think many of you know that there is $2.4 billion-worth of food in this current pipeline. However, we have already conducted an initial review of the pipeline with Benon Sevan's group and found that many of those contracts are, indeed, very old contracts dating back from 1997, 1998 and 1999, which are essentially dormant contracts. What we have been able to do is identify the most recent contracts. These were suppliers that were actually delivering commodities to Iraq at the time that the programme had to be suspended. Of those, we have identified $270 million-worth of contracts. These are contracts through which we would likely be able to contact those suppliers and ensure regular supplies.

    There are, of course, many additional contracts beyond that, but we would have to contact the suppliers themselves and see whether they are in a position to supply during the time frame which we will be given.

    Question: A couple of questions. First, I just would like to know if your appeal actually includes countries like Turkey, which is militarily on standby to the North, and Israel, whose Foreign Minister announced this morning that he discussed the humanitarian situation with Kofi Annan. Secondly, if you could just bring us up to date on the sanctions regime. Where does it stand now in the light of all this stuff going on?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: The sanctions regime remains what it has been. There has been no change to Security Council standing resolutions on sanctions.

    As for your first question, were you talking about these countries as donors or as recipients?

    Question: Will you be going to some of these countries and other countries in the immediate vicinity of Iraq?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: The appeal is addressed to every country in the world that wants to contribute. There is a community of traditional donors that was interested in receiving a presentation this morning, which was what we did.

    This afternoon, Mr. Oshima is meeting with countries in the region that are interested not only in getting information on how this appeal is being shaped, but also in making some contribution. This appeal is addressed to everybody, not only a few countries.

    Question: Concerning the countries that are receiving refugees, does the appeal cover the needs of the neighbours?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Kenzo, would you like to provide details on the recipients covered by this appeal?

    Mr. Oshima: This appeal covers emergency requirements for the Iraqi people. If, for example, Iraqi refugees flowing to neighbouring countries are involved, the requirements will have to be met, and those requirements are addressed in this appeal. As for the impact of conflict on the neighbouring countries of Iraq, that goes beyond the appeal and is a matter that bilateral donors will be interested in addressing separately from this appeal.

    Question: I am a little confused over the $2.8 billion worth of unencumbered funds sitting in two of the oil-for-food accounts. I would be interested in knowing what happens to that money. I know that some of it is earmarked for keeping the oil industry alive, but I do not know what happens to that money in the interim.

    Also, I would like just a little more detail about the state of the network within Iraq. It strikes me that nobody really has the slightest clue what state that network is in at the moment. I would be interested in hearing a little more about the degree to which any food distributions are going to be able to tap into that network, who is in control and who is in command. Thank you very much.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I shall ask Benon to give you more information on the unencumbered fund, but it can be accessed only under the conditions stipulated in the resolution that the Security Council is about to pass.

    Mr. Sevan: I think that it is very easy to make remarks to which nobody seems to have a clue. I do not think anybody has a clue as to what the situation in Iraq is today, apart from what you read in the papers. From hour to hour, minute to minute, the state of the situation in Iraq changes. That also includes distribution systems. Until we are there, it will be very difficult to try and make an assessment as to where we stand.

    I will give you an idea of the difficulties in predicting what lies in the future. There are two shipments in close proximity to Umm Qasr, for example, under the programme contracted, of 100,000 metric tonnes of wheat. If I counted on that one, I would have been at a loss, because I still cannot get a position of those supplies. Therefore, the fact that there is $2.4 billion of food items in the pipeline sounds fantastic. But, at the same time, as I said this morning, and as my colleague stated, we cannot count on that for the immediate requirements. As the Deputy Secretary-General said, we do not know when it is arriving.

    Also, only after the resolution is adopted today will we be able to get in touch with the suppliers. Until that resolution is adopted, my colleagues and I have no idea where the supplier is and who is going to ship where and when. Only when we find this information will we try to calibrate, which was the word used today, to see what can be done to take from that pipeline and what needs to be done to supplementary contributions.

    Mr. Malloch Brown: I would just like to add to what Benon has said. We would have to go back in at some point to be able to assess the state of the food distribution system to see where, indeed, it would need support.

    I might emphasize also at this point, though, that up until the war had begun, the food distribution system in Iraq was second to none in the world. They had a first-rate food distribution that functioned, with an extensive network of mills, silos, warehouses and food agents. There were 44,000 food agents spread out across Iraq, who are small commercial shop owners and who are actually the ones who provide the final distribution. Indeed, ultimately, we would need to be able to rely on that system being in place to the degree possible. This would be the best way to distribute to the Iraqi people.

    Question: We are wondering if there is any way that you can provide us with a breakdown of the funds in the account. How much has come into the account since its inception in 1995? How much is in the total pool now, including the euro accounts? What is unencumbered?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Benon just had to leave to go the Council. He is the one with all the numbers. But I believe that there is statistical information provided. Is that every week, Fred?

    Question: Those reports do not have the base amount of the account as it stands now, the total pool and what is unencumbered.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: This changes from day to day. I think that Benon said there was $2.4 or $2.5 billion of unencumbered funds earmarked for various purposes. We will see if we can provide you with a clear fact sheet, but you should know that the fact sheet will be valid for today. That number will change every day.

    But you also have to remember that this money is not accessible to the Secretary-General to divert to new needs. You have to look at the Security Council resolution that they are adopting as we speak. It says what cash resources can be used for. You have to remember that. It is important not to confuse the fact that there is a large amount that is dedicated and available to the oil-for-food programme, with the ability of the Secretary-General and his representatives to access that money to meet the supplementary needs, and that is why we are having this appeal.

    Question: Are there provision in the resolution to allow some flexibility within that account to take money for Kuwaiti reparations, to be reimbursed later?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: They have given limited authority. Please read the resolution, which says the Secretary-General can establish priorities within the contracts in the pipeline and to use unencumbered funds to pay for additional costs that may come from adjustment to these programmes to meet some new local costs. It also says he may, with the permission of the Committee established by resolution 661 (1990), enter into new contracts, and that authority is limited to 45 days. It is for things that can be shipped within this 45-day period. So, it is not a blanket authority to do whatever we think is necessary with the entirety of the funds that may be in the oil-for-food pipeline somewhere.

    Question: To follow up on what you just said, would it be easier for all of you to not have to go through all the paperwork of what is in the pipeline and take this flash appeal money and start new contracts? Or do those contracts take so long to fulfil that it is not practical?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I think that it is very important to rely as much as possible on what is in the pipeline, because it means that contracts already exist and some of the stuff may be on the way. If you get cash today, you would still have a long lead time to order and get the stuff delivered. That is why the Secretary-General asked for this special flexibility to be introduced to the oil-for-food programme, so you do not suddenly see a whole pipeline paralysed. You start afresh with cash from donors. Would you like to add something, Mark?

    Mr. Malloch Brown: Let me just try, because I can tell that Maggie and the others think that there is one of those bureaucratic, monumental double counts here. I really do not think that there is.

    The first thing to understand is that, as the Deputy Secretary-General has said, we are constantly going to be reviewing what we can pay for under oil for food, what has already been delivered, which can be offset against this $2.2 billion number. We had to get that overall needs number out, so that donors began to get a sense of the scale and a quantification of the problem. But we have made it clear that as we can free and disencumber oil-for-food money or find that there is stuff in the pipeline that coincides with these emergency needs, we will reduce the amount of donor resources we need.

    Secondly, most of the overlap is in the food item, as has already been said, and Carol's material for getting the water system going or that of the United Nations Development Programme to get the electricity sector going is not generally covered, because the items under procurement under that programme are long-standing capital items, not the requirements you need for emergency infrastructure repair. In a situation like Iraq, which is largely urbanized, issues pertaining to such things as water, sanitation and electric infrastructure are very urgent.

    Finally, remember the debate in the Security Council. The oil-for-food programme, in the very exceptional circumstance of Iraq, is essentially an ongoing import programme for the Government to meet approved needs permitted by the Security Council. Added to that is the emergency created by the war. Those needs have clearly neither been provided for in the contracts. There are also many in the Council who believe that the nature of the conflict means that the Iraqi people in this programme should not be the sole source funding the additional requirements and that there is an obligation on the part of the international community to meet these unexpected exceptional needs.

    So there will be two sources of funding. I believe that there is a general view that that is correct. The obligation on us is to manage it in a way that ensures there is no duplication. The fact that there are billions of dollars out there does not get in the way of the unfunded urgent needs that the populations of cities under siege will soon need.

    Question: I have been wondering whether $40 per Iraqi for the next five months is going to be enough. We are just trying to understand how it all breaks down.

    Question: You say that, until the war began, Iraq had a food distribution network that was second to none and tens of thousands of metric tons of food had already been ordered, but that there was no money to pay for it. According to the documents, that food will not be delivered until security permits. Can you enlighten us as to when that would start, assuming you even had the money today? Would it mean a total cessation of hostilities? Would it mean just certain areas of the country that were free from fighting that would enable the food distribution network to get up and running again.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Maybe I can start with the question that was asked, I think, by Mark Turner concerning the state of the distribution system right now.

    Based on the information we get from our local staff, which, as I said, are still at work, Iraq's Ministry of Trade is, as much as possible, still conducting distribution in the centre and south of the country. In the north, the World Food Programme is continuing to distribute the remaining stocks to internally displaced persons and vulnerable groups, which is what we have been doing for many years now.

    Phillip, do you want to take it from there?

    Mr. Ward: I was just going to add that, should the Council approve this draft resolution today ...

    The Deputy Secretary-General: It has done so unanimously, just a minute ago.

    Mr. Ward: Excellent. Good news. I was going to say that our procurement people are going to be working the telephones this entire weekend to contact suppliers to begin to see which ones among them will be able to begin supplying commodities during this 45-day period within which we have to work. Of course, actual distribution in Iraq will depend very much on the security situation. We will have to monitor that situation as we go along.

    Ms. Bellamy: But we all have experience in areas where there has been war, and we do not wait for it all to be over. The issues are really need -- there are people who are vulnerable -- and security. As long as we can be assured of reasonably decent security -- all of our staff work in very difficult circumstances -- security and need will be the governing factors in this regard.

    Question: You said that many of the contracts pertaining to the $10 billion are dormant contracts. Does that mean that it is not $10 billion? My understanding was that it was approved; and then there is monitoring as to what enters Iraq? Has that entered Iraq, then? They are approved, then they are dormant and not delivered? So what is going on there?

    Then you said $270 million in contracts are likely not to be dormant. Is that food or what?

    Then, presumably, when you said there is still distribution of food, the food part of the oil-for-food programme is still working in many parts?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: On the contracts for the centre and south of Iraq, the management of the contracts was the responsibility of the Iraqi Government. Every six months, they submitted a detailed programme of imports that was then authorized by the Committee established under resolution 661 (1991) -- or by the oil-for-food programme, for those parts of the import programme for which authority was delegated for approval to the Iraq programme.

    Once the authorization was given, then it was for the Iraqi Government to keep contact with its supplier and to decide which contracts would be coming, in what order and all of that. With the resolution that was passed five minutes ago, we now have the authority ourselves to go to the suppliers to ascertain the status of their contracts. We do not know. What we do know is that some of their contracts, dating back several years, are still on the books as being unfulfilled and undelivered. So we are not sure whether those are contracts that still have validity.

    At the end of the day, money is disbursed for contracts that are actually executed. But you have a big supply of contracts that have been authorized by the Committee established under resolution 661 (1991). Now we have to go through those contracts to establish which ones are going to be executed and in what period of time. We must also determine whether there is a need to change the conditions and so on. That is what the people at the World Food Programme will spend the weekend doing. We did not have that responsibility previously.

    We are saying that there is still some distribution of food because food has been coming in on a regular basis. It has been sent to warehouses and then distributed to households. There is still quite a bit in the warehouses. When we did our original planning, we said that the Iraqis would probably have, on average, six weeks' worth of food reserves at the beginning of the conflict. That was a week ago, so one can still imagine that there is still four to five weeks' worth of reserve in local warehouses, which can be distributed through the distribution system. Over time, however, if there is no new arrival of foodstuffs, those supplies will run out.

    Question: [Unintelligible] You have mentioned $270 million.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: This is just a preliminary paper review.

    Question: So far you have only confirmed that there is $270 million of the $10 billion that was originally ...

    The Deputy Secretary-General: First of all, we are talking about food here.

    Mr. Ward: I was just going to clarify that $270 million refers to contracts in which suppliers were delivering large quantities of food commodities to Iraq. Some of those contractors have two to three ships on the high seas at any point in time. When the programme was suspended, they had not finished delivering the entire quantity of their contracts. So the $270 million that we have identified were contracts where suppliers were in an actual delivery mode at the time that the programme was suspended. So we know that those suppliers are likely to be in a position to deliver the balance of what they had already been delivering at that time.

    Question: {Unintelligible] of food then? You have only confirmed $270 million to be delivered of the $2.4 billion in food that is approved.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Yes, but we have not talked to any of the suppliers. Once we talk to the suppliers, we will be able ...

    Mr. Ward: What I am saying is that the $270 million pertained to contracts that we knew were being delivered at this time. They are the balance of food contracts that would be available for us to make use of. Again, we would need to contact those suppliers to make sure that they are still willing. But there are ones that we consider to have a higher possibility of being fulfilled than all of the additional ones, where we would still need to contact the suppliers.

    Question: Can you talk a little bit about the situation of [unintelligible] country, as the most vulnerable of people in a report of casualties, displacements, trauma and other war impacts?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: You are asking about?

    Question: The United Nations Children's Fund.

    Ms. Bellamy: Remember that this is a country where the conditions, certainly for children, were already relatively precarious before the war even began: one out of every eight children died before the age of five; a quarter of the children were malnourished; and a third of the children had low birth weights. At this point in time, at least in the north and in Baghdad, there is not dramatic displacement.

    There is some movement of populations. We have seen in a couple of the camps increased incidents of diarrhoea. With the Government and the World Health Organization, we were able to engage in a pretty widespread measles and polio campaign in the months leading up to the actual outbreak of the war. You know, measles actually kills if there is an outbreak. It doesn't kill everyone, but it can.

    So at this point in time, our biggest concern in terms of the humanitarian impact certainly on children and on the population generally is in the southern part of Iraq and, particularly, immediately, the issue of those places that do not have water -- or that do not have running water. About half of all the water in Iraq is treated water. To the extent electricity has gone or there is no fuel to run the generators, they are not receiving clean water. Obviously, a break in the food line is going to be very important, but there is a little bit of back-up food. A break in the water line for more than five or six days can potentially create a very significant emergency. That is what we are seeing in some places in the south.

    Mr. Eckhard: Thank you very much, Deputy Secretary-General and the other panellists.

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