Global Policy Forum

Iraqi Infant Malnutrition 'Unacceptably High'


By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press
February 25, 1999

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a bleak report on the humanitarian situation in Iraq, saying bureaucratic delays and low oil prices were preventing Iraqis from getting the food and medicine they need.

Chief among Annan's concerns is that medicine imported through the UN oil-for-food program is languishing in Iraqi warehouses. The secretary-general's report to the Security Council also said yesterday that malnutrition among infants and children under five remains at "unacceptably high levels".

The oil-for-food program allows Baghdad to buy humanitarian goods to care for its people suffering under UN sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Only half of the $US540 million ($845.86 million) worth of drugs and medical supplies delivered to Iraq since the program was launched in 1996 have reached hospitals and clinics, the report said.

While some delays in bringing supplies from warehouses to consumers are the result of a shortage of trucks and poor communications, Annan recommended the Government "utilise the resources available to ensure efficient distribution of the goods provided under the program".

Even though child malnutrition is unacceptably high, the Iraqi Government has contracted for only $US1.7 million worth of high-protein biscuits for pregnant women out of a total allocation of $US8 million, according to the report. And Baghdad has submitted contracts for only 260 tonnes of infant milk, even though the UN has approved deliveries of 1500 tonnes, the report said.

With pressure to lift or ease economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 rising, the Security Council has formed a special panel to make recommendations on improving the humanitarian situation in the country. The panel is scheduled to meet on March 1-2.

Still, even Annan, who has lobbied aggressively to try to improve life for 22 million Iraqis living under UN sanctions, seemed to acknowledge that significantly upgrading the oil-for-food program is out of his hands. "The most serious issue facing the implementation of the program at present is the growing shortfall in revenues required to implement the approved distribution plan," the secretary-general said. "Regrettably, there seems little scope for optimism in regard to oil revenues in the immediate future."

The UN began oil-for-food in 1996 in an effort to counter the devastating effects of sanctions on Iraqis, particularly children. Iraq is allowed to sell $US5.2 billion in oil over six months, but low oil prices mean that it will probably only generate $US3.1 billion by May, the report said.

Since one-third of every oil-for-food dollar goes into a fund to compensate Gulf War victims, only about $US2 billion is left for humanitarian aid. Part of that money is slated to be used to allow Iraqi Muslims to visit Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia next month. Iraq however, has balked at a proposal by the UN sanctions committee to allow a third party, such as the Red Cross, to distribute the money to the pilgrims.

The head of the committee, Ambassador Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands, is scheduled to meet with Iraq's ambassador, Saeed Hasan, today, to discuss the proposal. But diplomats said yesterday they were not optimistic that an agreement would be reached in time for the haj.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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