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UNICEF May Not Be Able to Provide Adequate Help to Iraqi Children - 2003-03-11


The United Nations says it has only received about one-third of the funds it has requested to avert a humanitarian crisis in Iraq should war break out. Meanwhile, the U.N. children's agency says it is rushing hundreds of tons of high nutrient foods to 400,000 malnourished Iraqi children to bolster their chances of survival in the event of conflict.

With the possibility of war looming in Iraq, the United Nations says has in hand just $40 million of a $120 million appeal for emergency funds made last month. The U.N. office coordinating humanitarian activities says some countries have made new pledges, but no additional funds have yet been delivered.

One of its biggest concerns, it says, is what will happen to the U.N.-run oil-for-food program which feeds some 16 million Iraqis, about 60 percent of the population. The U.N. humanitarian office fears if war breaks out, food distribution under the program will stop because drivers will not want to travel into a war zone.

The United Nations has estimated that up to two million Iraqis could be left homeless by a war. It says half that number could be displaced within the country while the remainder could seek refuge in neighboring countries, mainly Jordan and Iran.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Peter Kessler, says the world body and a number of its agencies, including his own, are short of funds for Iraq. He says the refugee agency has been forced to borrow money to make initial preparations for a possible flood of refugees from Iraq.

"We already have stocks together with the International Red Crescent Societies and the Federation of the Red Cross for up to some 500,000 people in the Iraq region," Mr. Kessler said. "This is very helpful. We do not, of course, expect a wave like that to arrive on day one. But nevertheless, it is important that we have funds to be prepared and help governments in the regions be prepared. That means setting up refugee camps, building water and latrine systems, works that do take some time."

Lyn Geldorf of the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, says if more funding were received in advance of a conflict, it would be easier to prevent a humanitarian crisis. She says UNICEF is dipping into its own emergency funds to help stave off malnutrition for thousands of Iraqi children by delivering hundreds of tons of high-protein biscuits and therapeutic milk ahead of a possible war.

"UNICEF is hoping to ensure 400,000 children who are already malnourished do not deteriorate and their situation might in fact be reversed and they might be held in good health at least for the next month in the event of war," Ms. Geldorf said.

UNICEF reports that Iraq has one of the highest rates of under-five mortality in the world, with one out of every eight children dying before they reach their fifth birthday. Although rates have gone down in recent years, nearly one million Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition.