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UN Aid Agencies Hope to Return to Iraq in April - 2003-03-31

United Nations relief workers are making plans to return to Iraq in April to revive the food aid system. The World Food Program said it needs $1.3 billion to kick-start the emergency aid distribution.

The World Food Program has announced a six month program to deliver food aid to 27 million Iraqis.

The director of the Rome-based agency, James Morris, told a news conference in London on Monday that he is hopeful the security situation will allow U.N. aid workers to return in April.

Mr. Morris said his plans will definitely hinge on the intensity of the fighting. "We simply can't put the humanitarian workers at risk in conflict. Humanitarian workers take more risk in these environments; they were the last to leave. More people have lost their lives doing humanitarian service for the United Nations than have lost their lives doing peace-keeping work. I mean, our people are terribly at risk. And so my hope is that somehow this will get resolved sooner rather than later and we can begin to do our humanitarian work," he said.

Britain has accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of using food distribution as a political tool by withholding aid from his opponents, but Mr. Morris said he will not allow any such abuse. "We are not in the business of strengthening anybody's regime, wherever they are in the world. We're in the business of feeding hungry, desperate, vulnerable people. And we have a zero-tolerance policy for any political interference in what we do," he said.

The World Food Program director also explained the urgent need to launch his program despite the uncertainties of the war. "There are so many unknowns in this. How long this may go on. How many people may be at risk. What resources may come from oil-for-food. It takes a long time to buy something, get it on the sea, get it delivered and actually feed someone, that's the reason why we are making the appeal for the resources we are looking for right now," he said.

He said his immediate priority will be to feed the most vulnerable people, including the elderly and handicapped, malnourished children, and women who are pregnant or nursing.

After six months, the World Food Program aims for the United Nations' multi billion dollar oil-for-food program to again be fully functional.