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UN Urges All Parties to Help to Avoid Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq - 2003-03-31

The United Nations says a humanitarian crisis in Iraq can be avoided if all parties to the conflict cooperate to help needed aid get through.

The man who is coordinating the U.N. humanitarian effort for Iraq, Ross Mountain, says the immediate problem is security. He says aid workers need safe access to get food and other supplies inside Iraq. Until safety can be assured, he warns, aid will be delayed and a crisis could ensue.

Mr. Mountain says bringing aid to Iraq will require many people because they will have to carry out a large operation.

"Let me be clear. It is not the United Nations agencies going in with a few NGOs that can replace a distribution system that currently involved 44,000 food distribution points to distributes the kind of food supplies, 481,000 tons a month, he said. "That is over four times as much as ... the World Food Program was able to deliver at the height of its efforts in Afghanistan."

Mr. Mountain says the U.N. estimates that some Iraqi households have five to six weeks of food supplies. He says it will take at least that amount of time to restart the U.N. Oil for Food Program. The program had been feeding more than half of Iraq's people before it was suspended before the start of war.

He says the U.N. aid program, when it begins, will focus especially on areas that pose the biggest aid problems, such as the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

And when the aid begins flowing, U.N. officials insist, it will be organized and distributed by civilians and not left to the military.