Iraq (May 1997)
by Humanitarian Practice Network May 1997

In November 1996, the oil-for-aid deal drawn up under UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) 986, was signed. At the heart of the deal is the use of proceeds from oil sales for humanitarian assistance to alleviate the hardship caused by economic sanctions against Iraq. Some months before the signature, twenty international NGOs presented the UNDHA with a critique of the aid plan for northern Iraq. Under the terms of the ‘986’ plan, some US$260 million was to be spent in a rapid, multi-sectoral rehabilitation programme.

The plan has been greeted with some hesitation by NGOs, critical of the haste with which it has been drawn up, with insufficient consultation of local authorities and international aid agencies. It consequently fails to identify, and respond appropriately, to the distinct needs in the north which are different from the south. It is also felt that the plan overestimates the administrative and logistical implementation capacity, and has an unrealistic time-frame. The emphasis of the plan is on the input of commodities, without consideration of their impact. In southern Iraq, where there are shortages of medicine and food, the distribution of imported food aid is likely to damage fragile attempts to re-establish an agricultural base. An alternative would be to purchase locally produced foodstuffs, to invest in irrigation systems and multiplication of locally adapted seeds, pest control and farmer training. Although there are vulnerable groups in northern Iraq, there is no evidence of widespread malnutrition and consequently no need for a general food distribution. The overall allocation of food is deemed excessive and part of it could be urgently redirected to investment in the energy sector.

The health plan again centres on inputs: this time of drugs and medical equipment. The NGO critique advocates a focus on preventive health care, the integration of health with the water and sanitation, food and nutrition sectors, and more investment in health education and the training of personnel.

The provisions for shelter and resettlement lack a clear policy with regard to the internally displaced, large numbers of whom are concentrated in ‘collective’ towns. The allocation for dealing with mines is seen as inadequate in relation to the magnitude of the problem. For as long as it remains impossible to bring specialised demining and unexploded ordnance destruction equipment into northern Iraq, investment should focus on education and prevention, and ongoing capacity for the treatment and rehabilitation of mine victims.

In their comments, NGOs stress the general lack of capacity to monitor the large scale input of commodities and their targeting, and their unwillingness to get involved now while not having been fully involved at the planning phase. A second six-month agreement may be forthcoming, and international NGOs are therefore continuing to lobby for a more developmental approach, to preserve the still limited recovery of the Kurdish economy and to kickstart the local economy in the south.

Aid plans that prioritise imports do not put much needed cash into the local economy, and essentially sustain aid dependency, not recovery. There is also a risk of existing donors withdrawing or redirecting their funding, which, under the provisions of the in the ‘986’ proposal, would make the recovery work very vulnerable.

Peace talks continue between the rival Kurdish factions of the PUK and the KDP, and a peace monitoring force is in place with members of neighbouring countries including Turkey. International NGOs do not express worry that the input of aid commodities would heighten tensions between the factions.