Department of Emergency and Humanitarian Action

Brief on EHA country related activities

02 May 2000

Description of emergency, health impact and WHO position

WHO activities in Iraq are carried out in the overall framework of UN activities under Security Council Resolution (SCR) 986, better known as the "oil-for-food" programme. Since 1996, the United Nations has extended this initial resolution for an six additional six-month "phases". WHO is mandated to act as "observer" in Central and Southern Iraq, ensuring equitable distribution of health commodities imported into the country. In the northern governorates of Dohuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah, WHO plays a dual role: "observer," but also "implementor" in the areas of rehabilitation of health facilities and import of hospital equipment, water and sanitation, and medical education. To date WHO has to been given a budget of US$ 167.5 million implement the various activities of the "oil for food" programme.

Achievements and Constraints

Thanks to excellent collaboration between all parties and the various levels of the Organization, WHO has been able to maintain for each phase one of the best implementation records of the "import" component of funding among the agencies implementing the "oil-for-food" programme.

The sanctions regime imposed on Iraq by the United Nations implies by its nature serious constraints. The approvals process, which for the first six phases has required UN Security Council approval for each item imported into Iraq, has proven to be cumbersome and fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is "holds" delaying acceptance and, thus, procurement of a number of crucial health-related items. Under Phase VII a relaxing of the system is envisaged, but not yet in effect. WHO has urged that all medical supplies be exempted from the necessity of Security Council approval.

WHO's rate of implementation for the "cash" component of funding, used primarily for local contracts for rehabilitation of health facilities, has been less strong in the past. Serious efforts have been made to enhance performance in this area.

WHO Staff presence and/or Security Constraints

There are presently 33 international staff implementing the "oil-for-food" programme in Iraq, with 12 in Baghdad and 21 in the three northern governorates. These supplement the 91 nationals, of which 48 are in Baghdad and 43 in the north. International staff and consultants can enter Iraq only with UN Security Clearances. WHO international staff with contracts of six months or more can, as of 1 April 2000, benefit from Rest & Recuperation leaves. The northern governorates are at higher security risk than Baghdad. Air travel remains prohibited under the sanctions regime.


After ten years of sanctions, the Iraqi health system is in need of a serious all-over assessment and of critical investment from outside donors. WHO needs to take the lead in helping to establish and support the implementation of long-term goals for health-sector recovery.


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