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US Gives $200 Million to UN Iraq Food Program - 2003-04-03

The United States said Wednesday it is giving $200-million to the U.N.'s World Food Program for relief efforts in Iraq. U.S. officials say they believe enough food aid is now in the pipeline to avoid any widespread hunger among Iraqis until the anticipated resumption of the U.N. "oil for food" program in a few months time.

The announcement of the additional U.S. relief aid came from the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development Andrew Natsios, who said it would be used by the U.N. to purchase food in the region that would be ready for delivery much sooner than if shipped from the United States.

The $200-million contribution would be enough to feed virtually the entire population of Iraq for a month, and it raises to over $700-million the amount of relief aid the Bush administration has earmarked for that country.

At a news conference after meeting with aid officials from coalition partners Britain and Australia, Mr. Natsios said their combined pledges which far exceed $1 billion should be enough to keep the country fed for several months, until the United Nations' "oil for food" program is up and running again.

"What the coalition partners have contributed from their own resources will be sufficient to get us, if we need to, to the end of the fourth month," he said. "If oil-for-food is functional earlier than that, that will kick in. But we have enough food on hand, in the pipeline, through our own resources to take us until the oil-for-food program is fully functional."

About 60 percent of Iraq's population of 24 million was dependent on the U.N. program, which was suspended just before the war began March 20.

Late last week, the U.N. Security Council gave Secretary-General Kofi Annan the power to temporarily replace the Iraqi government as the chief supplier of food and other goods under the program once hostilities end and U-N personnel can return to the country.

In the talk with reporters, Mr. Natsios said that, after two weeks of warfare, there are "pockets" of humanitarian need in Iraq, but no massive crisis.

The State Department's chief refugee-affairs official, Assistant Secretary Arthur Dewey, said population movements to date have been insignificant.

He said about 5000 third-country nationals, mainly from Egypt and Sudan, had left Iraq for Jordan, while just 27 Iraqi refugees had arrived in Syria, and none had thus far gone to Turkey.

Mr. Dewey said an estimated 300,000 people had been displaced internally, leaving the central part of the country to move in with friends and family in the relatively-secure north.