Humanitarian situation in Iraq: Remarks by Minister of State Kitt to the Dáil
I welcome this opportunity to debate once again the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
It is clear that Iraq is potentially facing an enormous humanitarian crisis with millions of innocent civilians threatened by conflict, hunger and a lack of basic needs. As Minister responsible for Development Cooperation and Human Rights my focus remains on the protection and saving of human lives. This is a humanitarian imperative to which I am absolutely committed.
The present conflict in Iraq comes on top of years of hardship and difficulty. Since 1991 the Iraqi people have seen a dramatic drop in their living standards. In the league table 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 is translated at the basic human level into increased child deaths, malnutrition and high rates of disease. Iraqi children are facing extreme risks at this time and we should be conscious of the fact that they constitute half of the population of Iraq.
Prior to the beginning of the current conflict 60% of the population- 16 million people- were dependent on rations delivered under the UN Oil for Food Programme (OFFP) as their only food supply. The suspension of this Programme on 17 March, when the Secretary General withdrew United Nations personnel from Iraq, has put even greater pressures on an already extremely vulnerable population.
I greatly welcome the unanimous decision of the Security Council, through Resolution 1472, authorising the Secretary-General to administer the Oil For Food Programme for the next 45 days and possibly longer. I hope that the resumption of the Programme will mean that, despite the difficulties, basic food assistance can once again reach those who are most vulnerable.
Estimates of the scale of the humanitarian crisis cannot easily be made at this point as the situation changes daily. Iraqis from various regions in the country have responded differently to the conflict. The latest indications are that the majority of people in the south have remained in
their homes, rather than fleeing to safer areas either within the country or to neighbouring states. In the north there appears to be a larger displacement of people. The southern city of Basra is an area of particular concern. We are monitoring carefully the humanitarian situation in Iraq in order to gauge the precise needs of those directly affected by the conflict and to assess what we can do to address those needs.
The Government will play a strong role in bringing emergency relief to the innocent victims of this conflict. In response to the impending humanitarian crisis, on Tuesday last I held discussions with non-governmental organizations that have a proven track record in addressing emergency humanitarian needs throughout the world.
I have also had meetings with a wide range of international agencies and organisations which have kept me briefed on their plans to assist the most vulnerable Iraqis.
Deputies will be aware that I have announced a special €5 million emergency assistance package for the people of Iraq, with a particular emphasis on women and children. These funds will be disbursed through non governmental organisations and through international agencies such as UNICEF and the Red Cross. We will work with those agencies which are best equipped and which have the capacity and experience to respond effectively to this crisis.
I have already authorised initial disbursements from this emergency funding. Assistance amounting to €1.5 million will be provided to the Red Cross and Red Crescent family and to UNICEF. These agencies are present in Iraq and their staff, the great majority of whom are Iraqi, are providing assistance on a daily basis to those most in need.
Red Cross teams are providing medical and water assistance in Baghdad and Basra and where possible in other locations. They are also attempting to address the power situation in Basra.
UNICEF is also continuing to implement emergency relief operations within Iraq, carried out by committed and experienced nationals. UNICEF is immunising children against measles and delivering food and medicines to orphanages and other institutions around Baghdad. UNICEF is coordinating closely with the Red Cross and other agencies and organisations.
I would like to commend UNICEF and the Red Cross for the work that they are continuing to do inside Iraq in very difficult circumstances.
My Department is currently appraising applications for emergency funding from Concern, Goal and Trocáire. These NGOs have a proven track record for delivering emergency assistance rapidly and effectively.
In my discussions with these NGOs and others I have stressed the need for effective coordination in order to maximise the value of our assistance. They will be working closely with partner organisations within Iraq and with the relevant UN agencies. We will, I hope, also be able to work with other NGOs such as Oxfam and World Vision.
Deputies may wish to note that I have already provided €500,000 in start-up costs to key Irish NGOs to enable them to become operational quickly at the onset of an emergency. These funds can be prioritised for Iraq if the NGOs so wish.
While the delivery of essential relief to Iraq will be difficult, the challenges we face are not unique and with a concerted effort from the international community they can be met. We have garnered valuable experience and lessons from similar humanitarian situations, most recently in Afghanistan.
From the outset I have emphasised that the UN must play a lead role in any humanitarian relief operation. The UN has the international mandate to coordinate a humanitarian response and also has a substantial record of achievement in this area. I have recently returned from a visit to East Timor where I witnessed at first hand the successful outcome of a UN operation which has placed this newly independent country on the road to development and prosperity.
In 1999 the situation in East Timor seemed almost hopeless. Its infrastructure was destroyed and a large proportion of its population was displaced. Yet today that new nation is looking to the future with determination and confidence. The UN played the key role in this transformation. The East Timor experience clearly shows how strong a force for good the UN can be when its members act in a united manner.
A few days ago the United Nations issued a major international appeal for assistance in relation to the humanitarian situation in Iraq over the next six months. This 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 response agencies.
The UN appeal has two components, food and non-food needs. It is estimated that the food needs of the Iraqi population will amount to 480,000 metric tonnes per month for at least a 3
month period. Non-food needs include the provision of water, health, shelter, education, protection, de-mining and emergency repairs.
In any conflict the primary responsibility for the protection and welfare of the civilian population rests with the warring parties. In a case of foreign occupation it is the occupying power that has the responsibility to ensure the provision of food and medical supplies to the civilian population.
Yet it is also the responsibility of the UN to respond immediately and effectively to save lives, to mitigate suffering and even in these dark moments, to preserve hope for a peaceful future.
We will respond positively to the UN appeal through assisting our key UN partners such as UNICEF, UNHCR and the World Food Programme. The needs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will also be examined.
Ireland has already provided almost €15 million to UNICEF and UNHCR in 2003 for their global operations including emergencies. These funds are un-earmarked, thus providing these agencies with the necessary flexibility and the potential for fast delivery which can improve effectiveness and save lives.
The European Union and its member States are the largest donors of development assistance in the world. It is anticipated that the EU's immediate response to the emergency in Iraq will be approximately €100 million. The first tranche of €3 million is already being used to deliver assistance in Iraq via the Red Cross. 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.
Let me say a few words in relation to the Irish funding of €5 million being provided to save lives in Iraq. The funding provided by the Irish Government for development cooperation and the reduction of poverty in the developing world has never been at a higher level.
The primary focus of our assistance remains sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest number of poor countries in the world are located. This focus will not change.
However, there are many millions of poor people in other parts of the world. We must and do respond to their needs as well.
In relation to the Emergency Humanitarian budget I wish to assure Deputies that this budget, which currently stands at €23 million, is, by its very nature, designed to be flexible. It is not
allocated to any particular region or emergency in advance, but is available to save lives and livelihoods in whatever region of the world there is greatest need.
We cannot predict the number or intensity of crises we have to address. Therefore the funding must remain flexible. My priority is to address humanitarian needs wherever they arise. I have sufficient funding under the programme as a whole to deal with the full range of humanitarian needs and also to tackle the longer term development challenges in Africa and elsewhere. Funding for Iraq will not come from the monies already allocated to help with humanitarian needs of other regions.
In 2002 the Government intervened to provide humanitarian assistance such as food, water, shelter and medicines on more than 120 occasions in over 30 countries, including Iraq, throughout the world. This is testament to our commitment to respond to the needs of the poor in times of crisis. It was the flexible and unallocated nature of our funds which allowed us to respond quickly to humanitarian needs as they arose.
As the situation in Iraq unfolds Ireland will work as part of a concerted international humanitarian effort involving the United Nations, the European Union and NGOs.
We live in a very imperfect world. I dearly wish this conflict could have been avoided. Ireland worked very hard during our time on the Security Council to alleviate the effects of economic sanctions on the innocent civilian population of Iraq. We lent our support to every effort to find a peaceful solution through diplomatic means. However war is here. That is the reality. At this difficult time I will do everything in my power to address the dreadful humanitarian consequences of this conflict.