WHO health briefing on Iraq

Urgent need for humanitarian access

Many people within Iraq face increasing difficulty with access to food and water, to electricity, and to basic services. The international humanitarian agencies are poised, ready to help. We cannot access those being affected by the conflict and by the extra strains placed on health and other civilian infrastructure. For example, access to the people of Basra is now vital - so that health experts can assess the impact of the current situation on the health of the population and ensure that the right kinds of relief are provided to those who need it the most. The World Health Organization has a team of experts ready to depart from Baghdad to make this assessment. As of now, this team has not been able to depart due to the security situation.

The need for access to Basra, and to other areas where the civilian population has been affected by the conflict, is increasingly urgent. WHO appeals to all sides in this conflict to allow humanitarian agencies to gain access to these people. In previous conflicts, where humanitarian access has been restricted, it has proved possible to agree on humanitarian corridors or pauses to allow access. All of these ideas must be pursued with energy to ensure that the impact of this conflict on the civilian population of Iraq can be minimised.

Oil for food and medicines

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the Oil for Food Programme, which is now being discussed in the Security Council in New York. It is important to give you some more detail on the health part of the programme, in which the World Health Organization has been closely involved since it began operations in 1996. Under the terms of the Programme, Iraq is allowed to import medicines and other medical equipment under strict conditions. WHO's role is two-fold. In Central and Southern areas of Iraq, WHO monitors these supplies to ensure that they are equitably distributed. In the northern governorates (Dohuk, Erbil and SUleimaniyah), WHO also implements parts of the programme, specifically in relation to rehabilitation of health facilities, water and sanitation, medical education and the import of hospital equipment. Over the past two years, $150 million has been allocated to WHO health programmes in the northern governorates.

The Flash Appeal

The Flash Appeal which is being released by the UN today is vitally important to ensure that the international community has sufficient resources for a sustained response to the needs of people of Iraq over the next six months. This population - of 25 million - has depended on relief since 1996, and cannot be expected to withstand both the effects of conflict and the breakdown of systems that supply food, water, health services and other basic needs. An enormous operation is essential, and must be adequately financed from the start.

For further information, please contact WHO spokespersons Fadela Chaib in Amman (00 4179 475 5556) or Iain Simpson in Geneva (00 4179 475 5534).

The following WHO specialists are available to respond to media questions:
Dr G Popal, Head of the WHO country office in Iraq (+962 795 7092);
Dr Mohamed Jama, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Cairo (+202 276 5026 );
Dr Jim Tulloch, WHO Regional Health Coordinator, (+4179 509 0640);
Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive Director, Geneva (+41 22 791 2363, +41 79 217 3446)