- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 13 (UPI) — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the ambassadors from the 15 Security Council members to his conference room Thursday for a briefing on contingency planning for humanitarian efforts in case of an Iraq war.

While a human toll wasn't predicted, the envoys heard that the dollar toll could nearly triple from its initial $37 million estimate.

Annan asked Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette to consult with U.N. agencies to facilitate maximum coordination in their efforts and report.

Kenzo Oshima, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and also the emergency relief coordinator of the United Nations, in turn briefed reporters, assuring them Annan "does not believe that war is inevitable.

"The secretary-general continues to believe that inspections can work and that all avenues should be explored to find a peaceful solution, but it is also important to underline that it is the responsibility of the United Nations to be ready for any contingency in Iraq."

Oshima called it a "matter of prudence" that the world organization plans accordingly.

"Nevertheless, we have to recognize that conflict might occur and cause terrible loss and suffering to the Iraqi people."

Oshima said it was pointed out the Iraqi population is "already highly vulnerable" and said 1 million children under 5 years old suffer chronic malnourishment, 5 million people lack access to safe water and the population depends on the government for basic needs.

"Food rationing provides an essential lifeline to the entire population through the (U.N.) oil-for-food program," he said, adding "80 percent of average households" depend on food through the program and 60 percent of households rely solely on the program's "food baskets."

Under a "medium-case scenario" used in humanitarian planning assumptions, Oshima said that up to 10 million people — which would include internally displaced persons, refugees and the general public — might require food assistance during and immediately after the start of the conflict, while up to half of the population might lack access to potable water.

Some 2 million people could become internally displaced and there was the potential for between 600,000 to 1.45 million refugees and asylum seekers, Oshima said.

The United Nation's role would be to make sure that measures were in place that would allow the world organization and the international humanitarian community to alleviate suffering and provide life-saving assistance, the undersecretary-general said.

"Of course, parties to the conflict will be expected to meet their obligations to protect and assist civilian populations under international humanitarian law."

Mokhtar Lamani, permanent observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, on hearing the contingency plans told United Press International: "That should, by itself, be a deterrent to war."

While the humanitarian briefing was in progress, Annan's own usually unflappable spokesman, Fred Eckhard, was upset that while so much attention was focused on Iraq, many reporters were ignoring the plight of African HIV-AIDS victims.

"Stephen Lewis (special envoy of the secretary-general for HIV/AIDS in Africa) is here to talk about Africa and I know you are focused on Iraq and I am sorry to see some of you leaving, because Africa is dying," said Eckhard as reporters left the room after his daily briefing. "Stephen has, I think come up with some very dramatic information to share with you."

Said Lewis: "The World Food Program has done a really remarkable job on the ground … and stopped the famine" in southern Africa. "What they haven't been able to stop — what none of us have been able to stop — is the AIDS emergency with no end in sight."

After Lewis's roughly 25-minute presentation, Eckhard asked for questions. There were none.

"Before we close then, there is just one statistic I would like to see if I have right," Eckhard said, in his usually calm voice, turning to Lewis. "There are 40 million (people) at risk?"

"Thirty million in Africa who are affected," replied Lewis.

"I don't know what figures you are going to hear from Mr. Oshima (in his Iraqi humanitarian briefing), but 30 to 40 million is an awful big number."

Iraq's total population is about 24 million people.

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