Global Policy Forum

Top UN Officials Answer Common Misconceptions

Citizens Concerned for the People of Iraq (CCPI)
September 7, 1999

The following are comments excerpted from public talks, interviews, news releases, and reports by:

  • Hans von Sponeck, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, who is responsible for administering the oil-for-food program.
  • Denis Halliday, former UN official, who was the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq.
  • Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF.
  • UN Panel on Humanitarian Issues in Iraq, composed of Celso Amorim, UN Ambassador from Brazil, Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme,
  • and others.

  • On differences in child mortality and malnutrition between the UN and Iraqi-government administered regions of the program.
  • On reports the Iraqi government is stockpiling food or medicines and deliberately not distributing it to the population.
  • On claims the UN's findings of half-a-million 'excess' deaths of children are a propaganda effort by Iraq to end sanctions.
  • On the adequacy of the oil-for-food program.
  • On differences in child mortality and malnutrition between the UN and Iraqi-government administered regions of the program: Bellamy: The Washington Post reported that "Bellamy attributed the discrepancy to the large amount of international aid pumped into northern Iraq at the end of the war. In contrast, humanitarian assistance began to reach central and southern Iraq only after April 1996..." (WP: August 12, 1999)

    Sponeck: "In the [Kurdish] North, the UN is the actual implementer. We are distributing. We are procuring directly. We are installing. And we are running the program in these three areas [provinces] with the 'local authorities'. [In] the rest of Iraq it is the government of Iraq that does it, and we observe. We make sure that the food gets into the warehouses. We make sure that the food gets out of the warehouses, into the food stores or the stores of the food agent, and then to the beneficiary. The same with medicines, and the same with water and sanitation equipment and so on." Later, von Sponeck went on to say, "The Security Council does not allow cash in the hands of the Iraqi authorities. No cash from us - from that budget of oil revenues - in the hands of Iraqis. Therefore, very often, for very basic things there is not the cash to ensure, for example, that a special refrigeration situation is paid for, for drugs of that kind. Lots of problems of that kind because of a little money that is not there." (WPSR: April 5, 1999)

    "I just want to say, malnutrition - general malnutrition, acute malnutrition, chronic malnutrition - all three are in better shape in the northern areas, in these three northern Kurdish areas, than in the rest. That has many quite objective reasons. One of which is that in the Kurdish part of Iraq, the per capita contribution from the humanitarian program is much higher than in the rest of Iraq. That's one reason. The other is that the Kurdish areas are adjacent to Turkey through which a lot of [embargoed] items are coming into Iraq. [Another reason is] the market mechanisms are much better functioning in those parts. There's much more private activity than there is in this part of the country [the Center-South]. That explains the differential between the North and the Center-South." But for all areas of Iraq, he concluded, "The food basket isn't adequate." (WPSR: April 5, 1999)

    On reports the Iraqi government is stockpiling food or medicines and deliberately not distributing it to the population: Sponeck: "It is not - I repeat, it is not, and you can check this with my colleagues - a premeditated act of withholding medicines from those who should have it. It is much, much more complex than that." He went on to state the reasons: (1) the pay for medical warehouse workers is insufficient, forcing them to look elsewhere to try to cover the needs of their household; (2) there's not enough transportation; (3) the warehouses in the provinces are in bad shape; (4) the Security Council does not allow cash from the oil revenues of the program in the hands of the Iraqi authorities, so there are no funds to pay for distribution infrastructure; and (5) there are many steps involved in procurement, causing delays and sometimes over-ordering of the same goods.

    "You hear often - by those who want to prove that Iraq is intrinsically evil - that in the electricity sector it works well, but in the medical sector it doesn't work well. ...Because, so the argument [goes], electricity is important to the military and therefore they do something there; and it's not important in the medical sector, so they don't do something there. First of all, to distribute to 23 million people drugs is a much more intricate system than to distribute electrical spare parts to maybe 25 large electricity factories in this country. So it's a scale problem here with which we deal, and I don't think one can so easily say that this is all because here is a priority and here is no priority." (WPSR: April 5, 1999)

    Halliday: "Undoubtably there are some concerns that the medicines have arrived and have not gotten out, though they should have done, and there may be several reasons for this. One is that the WHO is assisting the Iraqi government to set up a computerised inventory system. The Council, however, refuses to approve the computers. A second is that the Iraqis also desperately require refrigerated trucking for distribution of drugs that require refrigeration. Again the Security Council has not approved those trucks. So, that story is not coming out. There are problems on both ends. Thirdly, the Ministry of Health is not as efficient in distribution as the Ministry of Trade... In my mind I have no doubt in saying that there is no one person in the Ministry of Health or anywhere else in the Iraqi government who is deliberately trying to damage the health, or allowing children or others to die by deliberately not distributing medical supplies. That's just nonsense." (M. Ryle: April 17, 1999)

    "Recently, there has been misinformation about hoarding medicines or hoarding of foodstuffs. I think this is not correct. Indeed, there has been a build up of cheese. For the first time animal proteins are included in the food basket. They will be released next month. If you can think through the logistics of having a half-kilo package of cheese available for 23 million people on any one or two, three days of March, you can visualize that warehouses may well indeed be full or look like they're full of cheese together with other produce. So this drama of Saddam Hussein storing foodstuffs and not distributing them is only so much rubbish." (CCPI: February 15, 1999)

    On claims the UN's findings of half-a-million 'excess' deaths of children are a propaganda effort by Iraq to end sanctions: Bellamy: "Ms. Bellamy noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states: 'Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war.'"

    "Ms. Bellamy also said that the surveys' findings cannot be easily dismissed as an effort by Iraq to mobilize opposition to UN sanctions. 'The large sample sizes...helped to ensure that the margin of error for child mortality in both surveys was low,' she noted. ...UNICEF was involved in all aspects of both surveys, from design to data analysis. ...'We are happy with the quality of these surveys. They have been thoroughly reviewed by a panel of independent experts and no major problems were found with either the results or the way the surveys were conducted,' Ms. Bellamy stated." (UNICEF: August 12, 1999)

    Panel: "The gravity of the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is indisputable and cannot be overstated. Irrespective of alleged attempts by the Iraq authorities to exaggerate the significance of certain facts for political propaganda purposes, the data from different sources as well as qualitative assessments of bona fide observers and sheer common sense analysis of economic variables converge and corroborate this evaluation." (UN: March 30, 1999)

    On the adequacy of the oil-for-food program:
    Sponeck: "The conservative figure [for oil revenues in early '99] is maybe, $1.6 to $1.7 billion for 6 months. ...If you assume - let's say for the sake of argument - $2 billion twice a year [or] $4 billion a year for 22 million people. Then you are getting a per capita figure per year of just under $180. Now, I ask you: $180 per year? That's not a per capita income figure. That is a figure out of which everything has to be financed, from electrical services to water and sewage, to food, to health - the lot. ...And that is obviously a totally, totally inadequate figure..." (WPSR: April 5, 1999)

    Panel: "In presenting the [panel's] recommendations to the Security Council, the panel reiterates its understanding that the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts." (UN: March 30, 1999)

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