Speech by Minister Kitt on Humanitarian Situation in Post-War Iraq (Part I)
I am happy once again to have the opportunity to address the Seanad on the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
As Senators are aware much has happened in Iraq and internationally on Iraq since I last addressed this House on June 11th. The images and reports emanating from Iraq continue to dominate the news on an almost daily basis. Vivid pictures portray a country in distress and a very difficult security environment where humanitarian organisations such as the UN and the Red Cross are apparently regarded as legitimate targets. The humanitarian community received one of the greatest setbacks in its history with the appalling attack on the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad on August 19th. This cold blooded and mindless assault resulted in the loss of the life of the Special Representative of the UN, Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello and twenty one colleagues.
When speaking to this House last June, I warmly welcomed the appointment of Mr de Mello as the new Special Representative for Iraq. I anticipated that he would bring a wealth of much needed experience, commitment and ability to Iraq in the humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction processes. In the short period of time he spent in Iraq, Special Representative de Mello played a key role in the coordination of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance by UN Agencies and between UN Agencies and NGOs. He supported and encouraged international efforts to contribute to basic civil administration functions, especially in the areas of health, education, water and sanitation.
A key objective of Special Representative de Mello was to determine how the UN might contribute to the political process. In this respect he sought to elicit the views of as broad a range of Iraqis as possible and facilitated communication between his Iraqi interlocutors and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), while offering his own comments and suggestions.
His message was one of hope for a better future for the people of Iraq. His premature death has left us greatly saddened at a personal level and has also left a great gap in the international humanitarian and development community - his passing is much mourned.
I was particularly horrified at the suicide bomb attack on the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad. The significance of this attack cannot be underestimated. It is the first of its kind on the Red Cross, whose mission is to assist war victims on all sides. The impact on the ground may be considerable; the Red Cross has stressed however, that it will not leave Iraq, but is reducing its foreign staff based there.
I would like to pay particular tribute to organisations such as the Red Cross family and UNICEF that continue to remain active on the ground despite the threat to lives and operations. The heroic work of the mainly Iraqi personnel of these organisations undoubtedly saved and continues to save many lives, as they selflessly address the needs of the most vulnerable.
It is, I believe, important to revisit the social and economic facts underpinning the humanitarian situation in Iraq. In short Iraq is a nation whose collapse is etched in its social indicators.
Iraq's position in the UN Human Development Index or HDI as it is commonly known has fallen from 76 in 1990 to 127 in 2001. I cannot think of another country that has fallen so dramatically and so rapidly.
In 1990 per capita income was estimated at 3,500 US dollars. It is now estimated by some to be at 1,100 US dollars and by others as low as 583 US dollars.
The health care system is in a state of extreme disrepair. For example in 1989 the health budget for Iraq was 450 million US dollars. In 2002 it was a mere 20 million US dollars.
One-fifth of the children under-five are under weight, and infant mortality has more than doubled to 100 per 1,000 live births over the past decade. Under-five mortality has increased from 50 per 1,000 in 1990 to 131 in 1999. This level of infant and child mortality is similar to that prevailing in parts of sub Saharan Africa. The equivalent figures for both infant and under-five mortality in Ireland is 6 per 1,000.
Water and sanitation systems have been badly degraded. Before the war only 60% of Iraqis had access to potable water. This situation has deteriorated even further leading to a situation where today UNICEF is providing over 14.4 million litres of water on a daily basis to deprived areas of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk.
The news is not all bad. Senators will be aware that before the most recent war, 60% of the Iraqi people were absolutely dependent on government distributed food rations. There were great fears that food shortages and further malnutrition could result from the war. However, owing to the tremendous efforts and dedication of the World Food Programme, its partners, donors and especially the many thousands of Iraqi's involved in the Oil for Food Programme, a humanitarian food crisis has been averted.
However, in relation to the ongoing food needs of the country, there are still some major challenges ahead, including the onset of winter, the absolutely precarious security situation and the large numbers still dependant on food aid assistance.
The planned United Nation's handover of the Oil for Food Programme, as outlined in Security Council Resolution 1483, to the CPA on the 21 November, 2003 will need to be carefully executed, in order to ensure that particular attention is paid to protecting vulnerable groups after the phase out.
I am encouraged to note that it is intended that the World Food Programme will continue to assist with food distribution, in order to finalise the delivery of commodities and to facilitate a smooth handover to the CPA, in coordination with the relevant Iraqi authorities.