The United Nations is facing a financial shortfall that may severely hamper its efforts to aid millions of Iraqi civilians in the event of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, according to U.N. officials and internal U.N. documents.
Secretary General Kofi A. Annan held a closed-door session of the Security Council today to raise awareness of the humanitarian fallout of a war and to appeal to governments to boost financial contributions for the U.N. humanitarian relief efforts. Louise Frechette, the deputy U.N. secretary-general, warned the council at the briefing that U.N. agencies were running short of money and that they would have to raise $90 million in the coming weeks.
"We have to recognize that conflict might occur and might cause terrible loss and suffering to the Iraqi people," Kenzo Oshima, the U.N.'s chief emergency relief coordinator, said to reporters after the meeting. "We need to take prudent preparatory methods to address the potential humanitarian impact of a conflict."
Oshima presented reporters with the United Nations' most detailed public sketch of the possible consequences of a war, noting that 600,000 to 1.45 million refugees and asylum seekers may flee Iraq while as many as 2 million people could be left homeless inside the country. He said that as many as 10 million people would require food assistance immediately following a conflict.
Oshima said the United Nations assumes that a U.S. military campaign would cause fuel and power shortages in Baghdad and other cities and shut down water and sanitation. "It is assumed that conflict would severely disrupt critical infrastructure and the government's capacity to deliver basic services and relief," he said. "Approximately 50 percent of the population may be without access to water."
Oshima said the U.N. humanitarian agencies have been borrowing money from other humanitarian operations and dipping into a general U.N. emergency fund that has almost been depleted. Oshima said the World Food Program, which had planned to position 10 weeks of food for 900,000 people near Iraq by now, has distributed only enough for 250,000. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office, led by Ruud Lubbers, has supplied winter kits and shelter for 118,000 people, far short of an initial target of 600,000.
A confidential U.N. report of a Jan. 30 meeting between several U.N. agencies and Richard Greene, the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, indicated that Lubbers's office was having trouble making ends meet. The U.N. refugee agency, whose preparations have been almost entirely financed from emergency funds, has borrowed $10 million from other refugee programs and taken a $6 million loan from the U.N. Central Revolving Fund, whose emergency funds are exhausted.
Governments that oppose military action, including France, Germany and Russia, have refused to fund the humanitarian contingency plans because of concerns that it would signal that the United Nations had given up on the prospects for a diplomatic settlement. The United States, which has given half of the $30 million the United Nations has already received for contingency planning, said that it would encourage other donors to pitch in.