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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 12:47 GMT
UN given 'peanuts' for Iraq clean-up
Iraqi refugees in 1991
There won't be enough to go around, the UN says

United Nations aid officials have warned that they are being given "peanuts" to deal with the humanitarian fallout from a military intervention in Iraq.

Aid officials have told the BBC that they may have to divert money from existing emergencies in Angola, Ivory Coast and Afghanistan.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers
Ruud Lubbers: 'Nobody's interested'
Some have even indicated an unwillingness to undertake an operation that could appear to be "cleaning up" after a war by big powers in Iraq.

It is an unusual public expression of anger.

Some agencies have even decided not to take money from countries which attack Iraq.

Few officials were willing to speak openly about the problem until late last month when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, let it drop that his agency was being asked the impossible - to prepare for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq, but being given no money to pay for it.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Lubbers went public.

'Not prepared'

Against the sound of helicopters ferrying the rich and the privileged to and from the Swiss gathering, he accused those nations that are ready to support war of paying little heed of the cost of assisting Iraqi civilians who may suffer as a result of conflict.

"Nobody's interested to do it," he said. "There's not one government who has come to me with money.

"When you ask me, is there a sort of planning of governments on what to do when it comes to military intervention, my impression is simply that they are not prepared for that."

Mr Lubbers's comments had an unusual effect back at UN headquarters in New York.

Afghan refugees
With war in Iraq, aid operations in Afghanistan could suffer
UN officials who had previously remained silent about this problem became willing to speak.

On the 36th floor of the UN headquarters is the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Just a heartbeat away from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's office, OCHA is responsible for planning the UN's strategy in dealing with emergencies.

Its officials are also exasperated.

"The UN is [commonly] criticised for having not been prepared," said Stephen Johnson, deputy chief of the Humanitarian Branch at OCHA.

"Now that we are prepared, we seem to be in danger of not being funded."

Costs rocketing

The UN asked donor nations for funds in Geneva on 13 December last year. In terms of the size of the crisis they could potentially face, their appeal was relatively modest: just over $37m.

To date, they have received almost nothing - just a pledge from the United States for $15m, a figure described by one UN official as "peanuts".

UN estimates of the cost of making contingency plans have more than quadrupled since that appeal took place, but money still is not appearing.

Despite the lack of funds, UN officials have told the BBC that OCHA has gone ahead and made preparations for the possibility of war in Iraq.

US Marines in training
Should the UN clean up the footprint of major military powers?
The UN refugee agency UNHCR is facing the biggest problems.

It has had to make plans for a wave of up to 600,000 refugees from Iraq - a challenge that involves placing huge advance orders for shelter, sanitation, and food.

Yussuf Hassan, the spokesman for UNHCR in New York, says that the agency is far from ready for a worst-case scenario.

"I think we are going to face a lot of difficulties," he said.

"We simply aren't ready for a major displacement at this particular moment."

Aid squeeze

Perhaps even more worrying is the pressure this is placing on UNHCR's emergency programmes elsewhere in the world.

Mr Hassan says the time may arrive soon when funds for vital operations in Angola, Afghanistan and Ivory Coast may have to be diverted to contingency planning for the potential crisis in and around Iraq.

"It has put us in a very difficult situation of preparing for a crisis that has not yet taken place," he said.

"We would rather be focussing on those real emergencies."

UN officials also say the particular political circumstances surrounding a possible war in Iraq have posed an unusual ethical dilemma.

The UN agencies are asking themselves whether they should even accept funds from nations - many of them rich and powerful - that are leading the push for military action against Iraq.

Questionable role

"We are concerned that we are seen as the clean-up operation," said Stephen Johnson of OCHA.

"I think that under certain circumstances, we would have to ask how happy we are with that role. Do we want to play that role, and is that what we were set up for?"

It's a question being asked not just by UN agencies, but by the whole international aid community.

The BBC has learned that a number of leading international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have made a policy decision not to take funds from sponsors of war in Iraq.

Aid officials say that could rule out big hitters in the donor community, such as Britain, the United States and Australia.

The consequences for civilians who may be caught up in any military action are potentially catastrophic.


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28 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
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