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UN Food Agency Pleads for Funds to Feed Iraq

U.S. Not Prepared For Iraq War Civilian Crisis, Say Relief Groups (Nov 2002)
(ENS) AMMAN, Jordan -- At least 10 million people in Iraq will need food aid within weeks of military action by the United States and its allies, according to the UN World Food Programme. The world's largest food aid organization says such an operation that would require massive donor support amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

With only 24 hours left before the U.S. imposed deadline when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must leave his country or face an attack, the UN food agency has asked donors for $23.5 million to pre-position enough food for the needs of two million people for one month.

To date, the agency has stored enough food to last one million people for a month.

So far, only $7.5 million has been donated, about one-third of the amount required -- $5 million from the United States, $1.6 million from the UK, $578,000 from Denmark and $326,797 from Canada.

The agency is expressing concern at the international community's reluctance to contribute to contingency planning.

The food component of the United Nations Oil for Food program, which until Monday allowed Iraq to export oil and use the proceeds to provide basic necessities, costs over a billion U.S. dollars every six months, the agency said.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that the UN is suspending the Oil for Food program and pulling out all UN personnel in advance of military conflict, a move that leaves the Iraqi people with limited food resources.

Over a decade of economic sanctions has left almost 60 percent of Iraq's population dependent on the Oil for Food program for their entire food supply. One million children below the age of five are chronically malnourished, according to the World Food Programme.

Some 25 million Iraqis have been receiving a monthly food ration of imported commodities purchased by the Iraqi government using funds from oil sales under UN observation. All revenue from sales of Iraqi oil was put into an escrow account managed by the UN, which is then used to buy food and humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people.

The United States is working through the U.S. Agency for International Development and other agencies to assemble and train a U.S. humanitarian rapid response team, which will be based in Kuwait City. The U.S. agencies have pre-positioned stockpiles of emergency supplies and commodities. In addition to food, these supplies include wool blankets, rolls of plastic sheeting for emergency shelter, personal hygiene kits, World Health Organization Emergency Health Kits, plus water containers and treatment units.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) says the largest emergency deployment in its history in response to a potential refugee crisis is now ready to take action.

Relief and medical supplies are being stocked in Iraq, while neighboring Red Crescent Societies in Iran, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey are preparing for possible population movements out of Iraq.

Didier Cherpitel, secretary general of the IFRC, said, ̉The consequences of conflict in the region will be disastrous for the most vulnerable, particularly if the UN Oil for Food program is disrupted. This is why we are placing so much emphasis on pre-positioning in neighboring countries for any outflow of displaced people."

Thirty IFRC Emergency Response Units are on standby to provide refugees fleeing into neighboring countries with life support in the form of field hospitals, clinics, water and sanitation services. These units can provide assistance to upwards of one million people in a period of one month.

The Emergency Response Units are developed by and staffed with personnel from the Red Cross Societies of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Stockpiling of tents, blankets, heaters and mobile first aid kits, and upgrading of telecommunications equipment are underway across Iraq. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society aims to be able to provide for the essential needs of 75,000 people for a 10 day period.

© 2003 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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