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Humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Iraq

Planning for humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Iraq

International Development Secretary Clare Short has said that there is a growing will to reunite the international community behind the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Iraq.

She added it was a priority to restore the UN's Oil for Food programme, which provides over 16 million Iraqis with food, water and medicine.

Read the statement to MPs in full below.

[Check against delivery]

Mr Speaker, I would like with permission to make a statement about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and the preparations for reconstruction. I should begin by apologising to the House that I was not able to be here to respond to the Urgent Question from the Honourable Member for Meriden on 19 March. The reason was that I was visiting New York and Washington to meet with the UN, IMF, World Bank and US Administration to try to ensure that arrangements are in place to provide adequate humanitarian relief, and that proper preparations are being made for reconstruction in Iraq. I had detailed talks with Kofi Annan and his senior staff, Horst Kohler at the IMF, and Jim Wolfensohn at the World Bank. I also met with senior officials at the US National Security Council, USAID, the State Department. There is, I think, a growing will to reunite the international community behind the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Iraq.

As I have made clear in my previous statement, the immediate responsibility for humanitarian support to the people of Iraq in the territory they occupy lies with the US and UK military forces in line with their duties under the Geneva and Hague conventions. My Department is providing humanitarian advice to the UK military; and the Treasury has agreed to provide £30 million to ensure that UK forces are able to play their role. The US administration has made their own plans with the help of USAID.

The UN humanitarian system has also made detailed preparations to resume its role in Iraq and to provide for refugees, displaced people and continuing humanitarian needs. The UN employs 1000 international staff who have recently been withdrawn from Iraq, and 4000 local staff in Iraq and has considerable experience of working in the country. My Department has contributed £13 million to help UN agencies make preparations to resume their work in Iraq and prepare for the possible consequences of conflict. We are expecting a flash appeal shortly so that they can make their plans operational. We will make an appropriate contribution. The UN will return as soon as it is possible to do so.

We provide regular briefing to NGOs with the experience and capacity to work in Iraq, to enable them to plan to take up their role, and are urgently assessing their funding requests. We also strongly support the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has a critical role to play, as they are able to operate in the acute conflict phase, and is a highly effective organisation. We have provided £2.5m for ICRC's work in Iraq this year, and also expect to respond to their appeal which has just been received.

However, it is important that we are all clear that the most important humanitarian priority is to restore the operations of the Oil for Food programme. To achieve this, there is a need for a new Security Council resolution to give the Secretary General authority to continue to operate the programme. The Secretary General is making preparations and we are supporting his efforts to ensure a suitable Resolution is passed. The scale of this programme is massive. It spends $10 billion per year and is funded by the sale of Iraqi oil. Almost all Iraqis receive assistance from the Oil for Food programme, and 16 million are totally dependent on it for their daily survival. It provides food, water, fuel, medicines and other basic requirements and is organised through 45,000 local distribution centres, all run by Iraqis. If this programme is not reinstated, it would be difficult to avoid a serious humanitarian crisis. We are therefore committed to supporting the Secretary General of the United Nations in every way possible to get the Oil for Food programme up and running again as rapidly as possible.

At the same time we are making preparations for the reconstruction of Iraq after the Saddam Hussein regime has gone. But it is clear that we can only rise to this challenge if we heal the rifts in the international community and engage all the major players in supporting the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country. The UN has to provide a mandate for reconstruction effort. This is a pre-condition for World Bank, IMF and many countries' engagement, and their engagement is key to the reforms needed to move the economy forward and to get agreement on debt rescheduling and a reparations strategy that will enable the Iraqi economy to recover and grow. I held detailed talks with UN and US Administration officials about how this might be achieved, and am hopeful that we will soon make progress in line with the agreement reached between the Prime Minister and President Bush in the Azores.

But, as the House is aware, a pre-condition for the reductions of division, bitterness and anger about double standards in the wider region is, as the Prime Minister has said, progress in the Middle East Peace Process. The UK's efforts were crucial in getting President Bush's commitment to publish the Road Map to the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. This, and Abu Mazen's appointment as the new Palestinian Prime Minister, offer the chance of a way forward. The Government is committed to driving forward that process to bring hope and peace to a new Palestinian State and security to Israel. I discussed this issue with the State Department and National Security Council representatives that I met who said that President Bush was determined to take this commitment forward. The IMF and World Bank also have detailed plans to provide support. But we are all aware that full implementation of the Road Map will not be easy, but is essential.

There is a sense of regret and dismay at the UN and in the IMF and World Bank about the divisions that were allowed to arise in the international community's handling of the Iraq crisis. There is agreement that our duty now is to minimise the suffering of the people of Iraq during the conflict, and to ensure that humanitarian relief and support for reconstruction is in place. This requires a healing of international divisions, as the leader of the Liberal Democrat party said. I hope that a united effort to provide humanitarian relief to the people of Iraq and to support them in reconstructing their country will help to bring that about.

Lastly Mr Speaker, I would like to make clear that I will keep the House regularly updated on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. We have provided our response to the Select Committee report. It has been difficult up to now, and this is the thing that all Honourable Members need to understand, to provide full information to the House because so many international agencies were unwilling to be seen to be preparing for conflict. We were in touch with them and they knew what was going on. This constraint has now been removed, and the House will be kept fully informed. Reports on the humanitarian situation will be placed in the Library of the House each weekday morning.


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