15 April 1996

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon, Mohammed Zejjair, Coordinator of the United Nations humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq, said that the aim of the humanitarian programme in that country was to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. All United Nations agencies there participated in the programme. However, the impact had been very much reduced because the need of the country was huge and could not be met through humanitarian activities alone.

He said that the most disturbing area of concern was the health sector. There had been a significant increase in both the types of diseases and in mortality, caused by a variety of factors such as malnutrition, lack of access to essential drugs, and lack of medical supplies and equipment. Water and sanitation was also a very important area of concern, as was food. There was food in the market but the people did not have the purchasing power.

Mr. Zejjair said that the donations which the programme had been receiving over the years had been diminishing because of fatigue. At the same time, the situation of the people was deteriorating.

In response to a question, he said that there were currently 200 United Nations staff under the programme, and 200 non-governmental organizations' staff. If the work increased because of increased resources as a result of the "oil-for-food" talks, the programme would need to strengthen that staff. However, the amount of strengthening had not been worked out and would depend on the outcome of other things going on.

In response to another question, Mr. Zejjair said that the programme was a national programme but focus had been on the northern areas of Iraq for many years because that area was in a bad situation. That was also because the donors had been directing their donations to that area. The situation had changed a little in the last two years with more deterioration in the south and the centre. Also, the European donors did not mind if the programme used resources anywhere they were needed.

Asked how important the success of the oil-for-food talks was, Mr. Zejjair said that its success was vital. Although it would not meet all the expectations of the people, it would meet an essential part of their needs.

He added that his office had been thinking of a possible plan of implementation if there was an agreement in the oil-for-food talks in New York. Such a plan would be put in place quite quickly.

Humanitarian Relief Briefing - 2 - 15 April 1996

In response to another question, he said that the programme's experts had visited hospitals and health centres, and had spoken to doctors about the health situation. That was the most significant indicator in terms of the types of disease, especially water-borne diseases which were not frequent in that country in the past. "You can find even kwashiorkor, which is one of the diseases caused by malnutrition. That disease was not there before."

Prices of food had also been increasing all the time because of scarcity and general inflation, he continued. Local food production had also decreased over time. Even though there had been a big effort by the Government and the people to increase the area cultivated, lack of agricultural inputs, such as pesticides, fertilizers and equipment, had resulted in decreased production. The other element of concern was the problem of education. More children had to leave school in order to help their parents. There were vandals on the streets that were not there before. There was also lack of school supplies. In many schools, children had to sit on the floor in some classrooms. Those situations showed that the humanitarian situation was very bad.

He said that severe malnutrition affected 22 per cent to 29 per cent of the population. Those were not just people who were not on a balanced diet but those who were underweight. That meant that such people were unable to fight any disease and usually required special care. Children in that category could not concentrate on learning. In the most severe cases, the victims could not even walk. The situation was most serious among children aged less than five.

Mr. Zejjair said that he was responsible to the Secretary-General. The programme did inform the Security Council about the humanitarian situation through the Secretary-General.

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For information media. Not an official record.