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UN Relief Agencies Will Not be Able to Avert Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq - 2003-03-18


United Nations aid agencies say they are still far short of funds needed to avert a humanitarian crisis in Iraq in the event of war. Still they say they are trying to prepare as fully as possible to assist the Iraqi people. U.N. relief organizations say they are digging deep into their own funds, and borrowing money from other programs, to pre-position workers and supplies to aid any Iraqis who may flee the conflict. But they say much more money will be needed once war breaks out.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinating office says it has received just one-third of more than $120 million needed for aid operations. In addition, U.N. humanitarian workers are now being evacuated from Iraq, raising concerns about food distribution under the U.N. administered oil-for-food program.

World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume says the U.N. will no longer be able to monitor food distribution by the Iraqi government. She says once these rations have run out, the food agency will need funds to continue the program currently paid for by the U.N.'s oil-for-food Program and administered by the government of President Saddam Hussein.

"We will need for that a lot of money, a lot of commitment from the international community," Ms. Bertiaume said. "So far, what worries us is that commitment from the international community to our first scenario, the preparedness, has not been very strong. We hope this is not a bad sign for the future."

At the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, Wivina Belmonte says it has been focusing its efforts inside Iraq on protecting the most vulnerable from the effects of war and disease.

"Clear, immediate health concerns now are measles," she said. "Children who are malnourished, children who suffer from diarrhea and children who suffer from acute respiratory infection. What we have been trying to do in terms of preparing is make sure that all of those risk factors do not fall on any single child."

UNICEF recently immunized four million Iraqi children against measles and polio. It is also working to provide clean water and sanitation to Iraqi families.

The U.N. refugee agency says it has planned to aid an initial 600,000 Iraqis if they seek refuge in neighboring Turkey, Iran and Jordan. Agency spokesman Rod Redmond says just one-third of the needed $60 million has been received for the effort.

"We are doing our best with the limited sources we have," said Rod Redmond. "The high commissioner has asked officials in each of Iraq's neighboring states to keep their borders open in the event of conflict. We rely on this so that refugees can seek temporary protection and assistance if necessary."

Mr. Redmond says the U.N. refugee agency has emergency supplies, other than food, to aid 300,000 Iraqis immediately, and could assist twice that number within a two-week period.