31 March 2003

Deputy Secretary-General Calls for "Swift and Generous" Response to Appeal for Humanitarian Aid for Iraqi People

NEW YORK, 28 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks, as delivered today, by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at a press conference launching the flash appeal for humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people:

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:

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.

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