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UN seeks $ 2.2 billion for humanitarian relief

The United Nations today launched a $2.2 billion emergency appeal for immediate humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq over the next six months, with $1.3 billion devoted to a massive food aid operation. "The war is now creating acute new needs, and that is why we are appealing for new money," Deputy UN Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said at the launch in New York today. She noted that while international UN staff have been temporarily withdrawn from Iraq, more than 3,000 national staff continue to provide assistance and support to the Iraqi people. Donors have already pledged US $ 58.6 million against a prior appeal launched by the UN in January to fund its preparedness plans for humanitarian action in the event of a war. The World Food Programme (WFP) said the $ 1.3 billion food sector of the appeal, for which it will be responsible, could evolve into the largest humanitarian operation in history. “Our planning is premised on the need for the WFP, over these six months, to assume responsibility for feeding most of Iraq’s population and this requires 430,000 tonnes of food per month,” Fréchette said. Apart from food supplies, the appeal also covers such assistance as the provision of potable water to the general population; health and nutrition help to children, lactating mothers, the elderly and infirm; and shelter, de-mining operations and emergency infrastructure repairs. "It is painfully evident that the international community must act immediately to prepare for all eventualities and in order to avert disaster," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement. "The most vulnerable members of the population, women and children, are at greatest risk." The UN said that the appeal also includes provisions for refugees both inside Iraq and in neighbouring countries and other especially vulnerable groups. “At this point there are hardly any refugees, or a very small number, in the sense of people fleeing Iraq for neighbouring countries,” Fréchette said. “But we cannot assume that will continue to be the case. That is why we have continued to base our assumption on a medium-case scenario to ensure that we are prepared for all eventualities.” In a related development, the UN Security Council today unanimously approved a resolution adjusting the suspended Oil-for-Food programme to give UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan more authority to administer the operation for the next 45 days. “I think it augurs well for the future tasks ahead of us,” Annan said after the vote. “We have many challenging questions and I hope we will be able to approach those tasks with the same spirit.” The programme, which allows Baghdad to use part of its oil revenues for food and medicine and is the sole source of sustenance for 60 per cent of the country’s 27.1 million people, was temporarily halted on 17 March after the Secretary-General ordered the withdrawal of all UN personnel from Iraq. Today’s resolution authorizes Annan to reassess the contracts that have been approved, and covers technical issues such as providing alternative locations for the delivery of supplies. Annan was also given the power to negotiate new contracts for essential medical items. Noting that the Iraqi authorities have established 45,000 centres of distribution, Annan said: “We would hope, once we get there, depending on the situation on the ground, to be able to tap into that distribution network.” Fréchette said: “We will not know with any degree of certainty what supplies can actually be shipped in the 45-day period stipulated in the resolution until we have contacted the suppliers to establish where the supplies have got to, whether they are still available, when and where they could arrive in Iraq and at what extra cost.” She added: “If this process reveals that a large amount of food can indeed be delivered to Iraq very quickly, then the amount we are asking from donors for food purchases may be reduced. But even in that case, the non-food items in this appeal would not be significantly affected.”
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