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Iraq: UN Oil-for-Food programme ends Friday

Iraq: UN Oil-for-Food programme set to terminate on Friday, proud and on time

The multi-billion dollar United Nations Oil-for-Food programme, which fed most Iraqis for seven years under Saddam Hussein's sanctions-bound regime, will finally wrap up its activities on Friday, on time to meet its expiry deadline and proud of all that it achieved since its inception in 1996.

The programme, the largest the UN has ever administered in financial terms, will transfer operational responsibility, including all humanitarian projects funded by oil revenues, assets ranging from schools to power stations and all contracts with suppliers, to the United States-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as of midnight Friday.

"It is gratifying to state without hesitation that the United Nations has met the challenge for an orderly termination of the programme by 21 November 2003 pursuant to (Security Council) resolution 1483," the Executive Director of the Iraq Programme, Benon Sevan, said in remarks prepared for a closed-door briefing of the Council today.

"It has achieved this in spite of the programme's magnitude in terms of scope, level of funding, operational scale and complexity," Mr. Sevan added. "This challenge has been met in the face of prevailing security conditions, and the ensuing substantial reduction in UN international personnel in Iraq after the terrorist bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August."

The programme, which allowed the Government of Iraq to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies and served as the sole source of sustenance for 60 per cent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people, became obsolete after resolution 1483 in May lifted sanctions imposed on the country for its 1990 invasion and subsequent occupation of Kuwait.

That resolution gave a six-month deadline for wrapping up the programme, which had used Iraqi oil revenues to purchase and manage some $46 billion worth of humanitarian assistance, supplies and projects.

Between 1996 and the onset of war in March, the programme achieved progressive improvements in health, education and public infrastructure. Malnutrition rates for children under 5 in the central and southern regions were cut in half, the capacity to undertake make surgeries increased by 40 per cent and more houses were built in 2002 than in 1990.

Mr. Sevan had warned at the end of September that the headquarters' bombing, the resulting drastic reduction in international staff and tardy action by the CPA had dealt major blows to the timetable for ending the programme, but he vowed then to meet the challenge "despite the enormity of the tasks involved."

Before the war in March, some 893 international staff and 3,600 Iraqis worked for the programme in Iraq. The CPA has indicated that most of the 2,600 Iraqi staff associated with implementation in the three mainly Kurdish northern governorates, where the programme had direct responsibility for distribution, will be retained.

In the 15 governorates of southern and central Iraq, the programme was implemented by the former Government of Iraq, with the UN monitoring the effective and equitable distribution by 44,000 Iraqi food agents.

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