U.N. to Seek Record $2 Billion in Humanitarian Aid for Iraq
New York Times
Wednesday 26 March 2003
UNITED NATIONS The United Nations intends to announce on Friday an appeal for $2 billion in humanitarian aid to Iraq, the largest such request in its history. The biggest use of the money would be to buy food, according to a United Nations official who spoke on condition anonymity.
Debates in the United Nations on humanitarian aid have followed the same contentious path as the debates on confronting Saddam Hussein's government that took place in the weeks and months before the American-led invasion of Iraq last week.
The Security Council met today to consider amending an Iraqi oil-for-food program overseen by the United Nations to adjust to changing needs resulting from the war. But the council is divided over how to proceed, with members that oppose the war like Russia and France reluctant to release money that would relieve the United States of financial responsibilities for the war's civilian costs.
Secretary General Kofi Annan wants direct control of billions of dollars of oil-for-food program escrow accounts. The program started in 1996 and swaps Iraqi oil profits for food and other staples to soften the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait 13 years ago. Iraq and the United Nations run the program together.
While optimists thought the Security Council might agree today on turning oil-for-food over to Mr. Annan, and using its money for civilian problems caused by the war, diplomats said that divisions remained broad enough to require at least a day or two more of debate.
"I have no doubt that the council will come to a satisfactory conclusion on the oil-for-food," Mr. Annan told reporters in a brief meeting this morning at the United Nations. "They are concerned about the Iraqi civilian population, and they will do everything to help them."
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Mikhail Wehbe, was less sanguine. "The oil is Iraqi oil," he said. "Iraq remains a U.N. member. There is a government still there."
Mr. Annan met earlier today with United Nations relief agencies to discuss how best to deliver humanitarian supplies to Iraq. The United Nations estimates that 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people rely entirely on the oil-for-food program's monthly supply for food. As war drags on in Iraq, relief workers expect food shortages and the threat of starvation to escalate.
The United Nation's extensive relief plans envision tapping into oil-for-food accounts for money, but officials here said that those funds were not likely to be released in time to meet looming food shortages in Iraq. Until then, the United Nations will rely on the appeal to pay for the program.
"The math is still being done on that," a United Nations official said when asked about the exact sums and terms of the appeal. At least $1 billion of the appeal's funds would be administered by the World Food Program, a United Nations agency based in Rome.
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