June 3, 1999
Baghdad - United Nations officials said on Wednesday they expected Iraq to suffer its worst drought of the century this year, and said the UN oil-for-food programme would not provide enough money to cope with the situation. The drought will hit Iraq harder than its neighbours because the farm sector, and rural infrastructure in general, have been struggling under the impact of UN trade sanctions, they said.
"I would like to warn you about the serious situation of drought in Iraq," Amir Khalil, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Iraq representative, told a news conference. "The shortage of rainfall during the last season has seriously affected the country," he said. This year's drought will be the most severe in Iraq this century, and considerably worse than the serious drought of 1961, he said. Khalil said the drought had already sharply reduced the volume of water in Iraq's two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. The volume of water in the Tigris at Mosul, 400 kilometres north of Baghdad, for example, fell to five billion cubic metres (bcm) last winter from a winter average of 11 bcm in the last few years. In Diyala, 70 km north of Baghdad, the average flow fell to 1.1 billion cubic metres last winter from a recent average of 3.8 bcm, he said.
The UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Hans Von Sponeck, who administers the oil-for-food deal, said Iraq would suffer more than neighbouring countries from the drought because of the UN trade sanctions imposed for Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. "Iraq under sanctions plus drought is going to suffer a lot more than others," Von Sponeck said. Khalil said equipment and materials supplied for the farm sector under the oil-for-food deal were "a drop in the ocean compared to actual requirements."
The previous five phases of the oil pact had allocated around $200 million to improve agriculture in Iraq, he said, compared with the $600 million a year the country used to spend on its farm sector. The oil deal allows Iraq to sell $5.26 billion worth of oil every six months to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for the Iraqi people, though actual revenue from oil exports has yet to reach that figure. "What is needed is simply additional funds to cope with the situation," Khalil said. Von Sponeck said Iraq had allocated more money for agriculture under a new phase of the oil-for-food pact which began last week and would continue until Nov. 20.
Before 1990, when the UN imposed sanctions, Iraq imported 70 per cent of its food needs. Under the UN embargo it launched a big drive for self-sufficiency, rehabilitating rural infrastructure, cultivating more land, digging giant canals and increasing farm prices. A rationing system under the oil-for-food pact has so far staved off mass famine, but provides little more than half of a family's food needs.
Khalil said the drought would also have a serious effect on the country's livestock, already hit by food and mouth disease which has infected 2.5 million animals. Iraq plans to launch a foot and mouth vaccination campaign on June 15, he said. The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee allowed Baghdad in April to buy one million shots of vaccine for this purpose. Herders have driven more than 400,000 head of livestock northward from Mosul and nearby areas to search for pasture and water, he said.