Global Policy Forum

Iraq Lagging in Buying Food, Medicine


By Judy Aita

February 01, 2001

The head of the U.N. humanitarian program for Iraq said Iraq is not spending the money allocated for the humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians at an adequate level.

In a letter to the Security Council's Iraq Sanctions Committee, Benon Sevan, executive director of the Office of Iraq Program, expressed his "grave concern over the very slow rate of submissions of applications" to purchase food, medicine and other supplies needed by Iraqi civilians under the council's oil-for-food program. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard released the letter to the public January 18.

As of January 15, 2001 the total value of the supplies Iraq wanted to purchase and submitted to Sevan's office for clearance was just over $4.26 billion while there was actually more than $7.98 billion allocated in the program's budget, Sevan said.

He noted that food purchases exceeded $1.58 billion and were approved by the sanctions committee in "a very timely manner."

"I am gravely concerned, however, with regard to the unacceptably slow rate of submission of applications, in particular under the health, education, water and sanitation, as well as the oil sectors," Sevan said. "Despite all the concerns expressed regarding the nutritional and health status of the Iraqi people, the total value of applications received under the health sector was only $83.61 million against the $624.75 million allocated."

"Likewise, the total value of applications received for the education, water and sanitation, and oil sectors, was, respectively $21.58 million, $184.76 million, and $22.75 million against the distribution plan budget of $351.50 million, $551.16 million, and $600 million," he said.

The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell oil under strict U.N. supervision with the proceeds used to buy food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies for Iraqi civilians along with spare parts for the oil industry and the other sectors such as electric and sanitation. For many Iraqi civilians the food rations supplied through the program are critical, U.N. officials have said.

The U.N. program and the sanctions committee had been criticized for delaying approval of shipments while checking to ensure that the supplies were to meet the needs of Iraqi civilians and not for the Iraqi military or weapons programs. Sevan pointed out that the processing and approval of applications has been expedited, but the U.N. efforts are not enough to resolve the supply problems.

He also complained that Iraq is not informing the office of the number and value of contracts signed prior to the submission of applications by the suppliers. Thus, he said, "it is difficult to ascertain the main cause" of the lack of contracts during the six-month phase which ended in January.

This is the second time in less than a week that the U.N. has reported a slowdown in Iraq's participation in the oil-for-food program. During the week of January 6 to 12 Iraqi oil exports were below average. Iraq had three oil loadings at its Mina al-Bakr terminal totaling 4.7 million barrels of oil which raised an estimated $91.5 million in revenue. There were no loadings of Iraqi oil at the terminal at Ceyhan, Turkey.

According to the U.N. oil overseers, Iraq exported about 18 million barrels of crude oil in December -- some 50 million barrels less than expected -- for an estimated loss of $1 billion in revenue as a result of the reduced exports. During the first 10 days of January the exports were 22 million barrels below those anticipated for an estimated loss of $380 million.

In December, the Security Council adopted a resolution lifting the cap on the amount of oil Iraq could export and allowing about 72 percent of the oil revenue to go to the humanitarian program. Previously 66 percent of the funds were going to the humanitarian program. Twenty-five percent of the revenue goes to the Compensation Commission, 2.2 percent is used to cover the U.N. costs for administering the program, and 0.8 percent of the revenue goes for the administration of the U.N. Monitoring and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) on the Iraq/Kuwaiti border.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the U.N. was hard-pressed to explain Iraq's inaction. "There is no ceiling on the amount of oil they can export. It's all just a matter of their capacity. But they are well below capacity; they are well below previous levels of export. Why they are doing that, they will have to say," Eckhard said.

More Information on the Oil for Food Program
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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