Humanitarian Situation in Post-War Iraq: Remarks by Minister Kitt, Seanad Eireann, 11 June 2003: 1
I welcome this opportunity to debate the post-war humanitarian situation in Iraq.
Experience has demonstrated that the humanitarian consequences of conflict continue to be felt long after the images of war have faded from our television screens. In Iraq today, millions of people continue to suffer from the effects of conflict, food insecurity, water shortages and from deprivation of other kinds. Hospitals in Iraq have been extensively looted and are overwhelmed by the demand for basic health services. Security incidents and ongoing instability continue to hamper relief efforts.
With the disruption and destruction caused by the war, the country's infrastructure has been further degraded. Basic services such as sanitation and electricity remain in short supply, causing hardship and increasing the risk of an outbreak of cholera and other diseases.
In Baghdad, up to 50% of the water supply has been lost as a result of damage to the water network. 800,000 litres of drinkable water are being distributed in the capital on a daily basis by UNICEF. Water and chlorine are also being distributed in other parts of the country where possible. Ireland's humanitarian assistance is aiding these essential efforts.
Many millions of Iraqis remain dependent on food distribution. I was pleased to note the commencement on the 1st of June of the country-wide distribution of food aid by the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Prior to the conflict, 60% per cent of the population - 16 million people - depended on food rations, as their only food supply and the resumption of regular food aid distributions is essential, if enormous suffering and consequential population movements are to be avoided. Ireland remains a strong supporter of the WFP and its work. We assist the WFP through core funding and through responding to specific appeals. This mix of funding mechanisms provides the organisation with the flexibility to deliver food aid rapidly and effectively. Mr James Morris, Executive Director of the WFP will visit Ireland in July. This will provide a valuable opportunity for discussions on the organisation's work in Iraq and elsewhere.
We should not lose sight of the fact that war in Iraq followed on from two previous conflicts and twelve years of crippling sanctions. Since 1991 the people of Iraq have experienced a dramatic drop in all aspects of their living standards. In the index that measures quality of life – the Human Development Index (HDI) – Iraq fell from 96th place to 127th place in a little over 10 years. No country has fallen so far so rapidly. This deterioration has been translated at the basic human level into increased child deaths, malnutrition and high rates of disease. Iraqi children have suffered greatly and are still at great risk as we meet here today.
My top priority, as Minister of State with responsibility for Development Cooperation and Human Rights, is on the protection and saving of human lives. This is the humanitarian imperative to which I am wholly committed and this focus has been a priority for the Government from the outset. All of the assistance we have delivered to Iraq has been informed by this imperative. I have worked closely with Irish NGOs and the key international organisations in shaping the Government's response.
As Senators will be aware, on 25 March I announced a €5 million humanitarian assistance funding package to alleviate suffering in Iraq. As a result of reports emanating on the ground from humanitarian agencies, the key focus of this assistance is emergency support for health services, water and sanitation, food assistance and support for internally displaced persons. This funding has been delivered via the Red Cross family, UNICEF, the WFP, Concern, Goal and Trócaire. Funding has also been provided to assist with the coordination of the humanitarian effort. This funding package is now on stream. Our partners have a proven track record of providing effective emergency relief to those most in need in difficult operating environments. I believe that Ireland's assistance is reaching the most vulnerable in an effective manner.
I would like to pay particular tribute to the Red Cross family and UNICEF who remained, as far as was humanly possible, active on the ground during the conflict. The heroic work of the mainly Iraqi personnel of these organisations undoubtedly saved many lives as they selflessly addressed the needs of the most vulnerable.
A key component of our humanitarian funding to the Iraqi people responds to the UN Flash Appeal for Iraq. This UN assistance will be provided in strict adherence to the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality that underpin the mandates of the United Nations and its emergency humanitarian agencies. The UN Secretariat has made it clear that a generous response to this Flash Appeal is critical, as the contracts in the Oil for Food Pipeline will not be sufficient to meet the essential needs of the Iraqi people in the short term.
The UN Appeal covers two elements, food and non-food. It is estimated that the food needs of the Iraqi population will amount to 480,000 metric tonnes per month for the first few months. Non-food needs include the provision of water, health, shelter, education, protection, de-mining and emergency repairs. €2.4 million of our package will respond to this appeal, supporting programmes which are being implemented by our key UN partners, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid.
The European Union, including the Commission, has allocated over €700 million in emergency humanitarian aid for the crisis in Iraq and has delivered more than €285 million of this to date. I welcome this rapid response and I will continue to use every opportunity to highlight the humanitarian needs of Iraq to my colleagues in the EU.
In any conflict the primary responsibility for the protection and welfare of the civilian population rests with the warring parties. It is important that the political debate over the justification for the war, which has reignited over the past two weeks, does not divert the focus of the international community from the humanitarian effort at this time.
It is still early days in the recovery efforts for Iraq. There are, however, some encouraging signs. Inter-agency coordination is good and the UN agencies and NGOs are meeting regularly. Five humanitarian corridors are operating through Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Kuwait. The adoption on 22 May of UN Resolution 1483, lifting sanctions on Iraq, means that estimated reserves of over 100 billion barrels of oil can now be put to use in the recovery process. For the first time in over three decades, free elections have taken place to choose the presidents of universities and deans of college; 13 new newspapers have commenced circulating in the country. A process of general disarmament of the population is beginning. These are first, but nevertheless welcome, steps toward normality for a population desperate for peace and stability.
While it is clear that the situation confronting Iraq is extremely daunting, the challenges facing us are not unique. As donors, we have garnered valuable experience and lessons from similar post-conflict situations. Our aim must be to avoid the mistakes of the past and incorporate the lessons learned in a practical way in all our recovery and reconstruction activities. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of coordination in all phases of the recovery effort in the months and years ahead.
Whilst recent experience of post-conflict situations has been mixed, our understanding of the elements required for post conflict development is improving and I would highlight Afghanistan and East Timor, in particular, as recent examples of countries that have made admirable progress in a short space of time.
The two most critical lessons seem to be that the recovery and reconstruction process has to be ‘owned' by the population concerned and that high levels of international engagement need to be sustained for many years. We know from our own experience in Northern Ireland how difficult it is to achieve lasting peace where deep divisions and suspicions exist. What is required is motivation and support rather than prescription.
Iraq has access to vast wealth in the form of oil reserves to fund reconstruction. Financial resources alone are, of course, not sufficient. The way in which the financial resources are translated into actions and programmes will be the key to the outcome of recovery efforts. Successful reconstruction will necessitate building the capacity of local institutions and systems, facilitating good governance and assistance in the key areas of basic needs and livelihood support. The process must be managed carefully in order to balance the understandable desire to achieve early results with the capacity of any new administration system to act in a productive and accountable manner.