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US, Britain Working with UN to Resume Humanitarian Aid to Iraq - 2003-03-19

The United Nations is expected to play a crucial role in providing humanitarian relief in Iraq. Efforts are underway to continue the organization's "Oil for Food Program" in Iraq.

The United States and Britain are working together with the United Nations to resume the flow of humanitarian aid from the "Oil for Food Program." The program, which imports food and other basic goods in exchange for Iraqi oil, was halted Monday when Secretary General Kofi Annan order U.N. workers to evacuate Iraq.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte said that in addition to creating what he calls "the largest ever disaster relief program for Iraq," a proposal is being drafted to enable the "Oil for Food Program" to continue.

"Working with others in the council, we are prepared to present soon a draft humanitarian resolution that would ensure the continuity of the program. We have begun consulting with the United Nations and other council members on adjustments to the current "Oil for Food Program," which will ensure continued delivery of key humanitarian supplies, particularly food and medicine to Iraq," Mr. Negroponte said.

According to U.N. figures, Iraqis are heavily dependent on the monthly food ration from the program. For 60 percent of the population that ration is their main source of nutrition but many sell that food to raise money. Nearly one million Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Mr. Negroponte said that the United States has pre-positioned food, water and other basic supplies, and contributed over $60 million to U.N. relief agencies. And Britain says it has set aside 110-million dollars for relief aid.

In remarks to the council, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the burden falls on the United States and its coalition to protect Iraqi civilians, but the United Nations will contribute too, and is making temporary adjustments to the "Oil for Food Program," in addition to mobilizing its contingency plans for humanitarian aid.

"Under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls on the belligerents, in any areas under military occupation, responsibility for the welfare of the population falls on the occupying power, without in any way assuming or diminishing that ultimate responsibility we in the United Nations will do whatever we can to help," Mr. Annan said.

Last month, the Security Council requested $123 million to finance relief operations. So far, $45 million have been pledged from donor states.

Secretary-General Annan says that now, the most immediate concern is the plight of the Iraqi people and he hopes relieving their suffering will restore unity to the Security Council, bitterly divided over military force to disarm Iraq.

During the council session, every member addressed the impact war could have on the Iraqi people.

Iraq's ambassador to the U.N. told council members that he predicts war will bring a "humanitarian catastrophe." He called for the continuation of the "Oil For Food Program," but also said that Iraqis will need further relief than food and medicine since, he says, war is expected to disrupt necessities, including electricity and drinkable water.