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VIW UK: interview with Denis Halliday, August 1998

Voices in the Wilderness UK

The following is the complete transcript of Milan Rai and Andrea Needham's 
interview with UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday,
conducted on 11 August 1998 at the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.


Rai: I have some questions about the enhanced programme ... [is the
purpose] to meet the needs of the civilian population or is [it] to stem
deterioration - because I see a lot of talk about stopping deterioration
of conditions.

Halliday: I think it's a mixture of both. The Secretary-General realized
by the end of 1997 that at the present level of oil revenues this
programme was not meeting it's intended purpose. In other words we were
not stopping the deterioration on the one hand and we were not providing
even sufficient in terms of basic [indistinct]

The reason for the first concern grew out of the figures, from UNICEF in
particular, showing that the level of chronic malnutrition was continuing,
at around 30 per cent and there was no sign of a decline - and nutrition
is something, of course, that is not resolved easily. It's not even purely
a food intake problem as you'll understand. And the feeling was that extra
money for that purpose was of critical importance. And secondly the
improvements were also not showing up and we failed clearly in that area
also so he went to the Security Council in, it must have been, the end of
January 1998, with a lot of material that we'd assembled here in Iraq
- with the help of the UN agencies, in particular, and also with the help
of the Government departments who worked with us very closely on that

And he made a case to the Security Council and they agreed - in fact they
agreed to an amount which exceeded the expectations of ourselves and even
our colleagues in the Government here.

They approved a ceiling of $5.2 billion per six months whereas the present
ceiling per six months at that time, was $2 billion, so that's a huge

One of the reasons for this large increase is a realization that a lot of
money needs to be invested in rehabilitation - that was one major item. So
for example, in the electricity sector alone, we had estimated along with
[the] Government something like $10 billion is required. Now we weren't
attempting to produce that ... but the need was striking.

Furthermore nutrition, as I said, is dependent on many factors. Apart from
food it's medical supplies, drugs, care, it means rehabilitating hospital
conditions, better clinics. In terms of water supply - which is a
fundamental need for acute malnutrition, to resolve that I should say, is
good water supplies which requires massive investment, perhaps $2 billion
in all. A lot of damage was done to that system.

In the sewage system - because the two things tend to be working together
- it needs ... power. The third sector then was electric power, additional
money [of] two or three hundred million was put [into it].

For generation and distribution of power - which is so fundamental to
health facilities, hospitals ... power is also essential for agricultural
production so another 2 or 3 hundred million was set aside for
agricultural production, domestic production - water, irrigation systems,
production of animal proteins through chickens and so on and the general
need to support that industry through power.

In addition to that, education was considered to be an important part of
the ... basic needs. Again several hundred million were set aside for
education ...

In the North we also added additional money for de-mining, which has
become a crisis for humanitarian work, for farmers to go back and use
their land ...

I neglected one very important area ... and that is that whereas food
alone is not enough, one of the major weaknesses of the original food
basket was the absence of animal protein.

Now I know as - don't know whether you're a vegetarian, many people are -
and you can argue you don't need animal protein, but in more simplistic
environments you do - in the absence of ... a lot of other health care and
advice and education and training.

And in this country the tradition has been, in the past  when money was
available, was heavily weighted towards animal protein.

So we had set up - this was one of the rationales for a large increase in
the expenditure on foodstuffs - was the introduction of, additionally we
proposed fish or canned meats, we proposed cheese, we proposed additional
milk powder and so on ...

To cut a long story short the Government ruled out fish and meat, for
reasons of storage and distribution and cost - vast expense for 23 million
people - plus there are some parts of the country that using canned meat
or canned fish was not going to work.

Then we concentrated more on milk products and cheese, including cheese -
again that was reduced to a certain extent but it stayed in the enhanced

And then, lastly, we added significant money for therapeutic feeding for
those with acute malnutrition and special money set aside for vulnerable
groups - orphans and other institutions where we were concerned about
child health and mother health .. where we knew there were particular

Now all of that together with the investments and, of course, the other
sectors - all of which relate to nutrition in the bigger sense of the word
- came up to something like $4.6 billion, gross - inclusive of $300
million for oil production parts - which again is an essential part of a
revenue increase needed for this programme.

Together with a new sector that the Government attaches a lot of
importance to and that is in the area of telecommunications - particularly
communications in support of this large-scale humanitarian assistance
programme, which is probably uniquely complex, and uniquely big and which
the Government, as you know, executes itself - in the center and the south
that's 20 million people, every month, I mean it's a very significant
management task. Plus about 3 million people in the North which are
handled through the UN system - although in fact, even for those 3
million, the bulk purchasing for foods and medicines is done by the
Government of Iraq. 

So it's for those reasons, and that is the response we felt that we could
manage - because even $5.2 billion has limitations.

That was the best combination of factors ... and to try to not only stop
deterioration but begin to improve the figures that alarmed us so much -
particularly in terms of children between zero and five years.

Now happily since then, if I may just go beyond your question, just
through UNICEF survey in the Northern governorates - Dohuk, Erbil and
Suleimaniya - and it shows, this was April 98, it shows that chronic
malnutrition has dropped from about 30 % to 25 %. Now we're not saying 986
should get all the credit for that but it looks like something is moving
in the right direction.

Furthermore acute malnutrition has also been reduced and that,
undoubtedly, is linked to the therapeutic feeding programmes of UNICEF,
WFP and the Government, of course - Government support.

I think that answers, in a long way, your first question.

Rai: I've read two different headline figures for the total amount under
the enhanced programme - which is the humanitarian side and then there's
compensation and so on - there's the $5.2 billion and then there's this
figure of $4.5 billion - as the headline figure inclusive of everything.

Is the enhanced programme - as it is currently being implemented - aiming
for $4.5 billion worth of revenue or $5.2 bn ?

Halliday: The 5.2 figure is the figure that the Security Council approved
as the new ceiling. The 4.5 or 4.6 was the figure that the Government felt
is could possibly manage - in terms of production and sales of oil [and]
oil products - providing, and this is a very important rider, providing
they had the missing oil production and pumping parts, costing some $300
million which would also come out of the $4.6 billion ... that's a

Now what has tragically upset these figures is the fact that the price of
oil has dropped so dramatically, which has completely undermined this
doubling of the programme - the effect of doubling of the programme.

Now, of the 4.5 - 4.6 that remains - it's a gross figure as you quite
rightly say and you have to take off almost, what is it ?, almost 40 % for
compensation and other, overhead, costs.

Rai: Obviously at the beginning, when the distribution plan was approved
there were sectoral allocations, where certain percentages were given for
different sectors ... On which figure were the sectoral allocations based,
were they based on 5.2 or 4.6, if you see what I mean, in terms of how
much money was going to be allocated to nutrition, electricity and so on ?
Were those allocations based on ... dividing up $5.2 billion ?

Halliday: In the report of the Secretary-General, and Mohammed [who] works
closely with me, can give you a copy of that ... it's a public document.
It gives you a breakdown of the 5.2 by sector. When the Government
realized that this was more money than it could possibly produce, in terms
of revenue, naturally it had to be reduced - and on top of that we added
the oil parts which are then seen to be critical.

So there was a re-distribution but not disimilar from the original
distribution proposed by the Secretary-General. There were some slight
changes in emphasis - more money went into electricity for example, which
the Secretary-General had proposed should [indistinct] but the Government
felt that up front we just simply had to put in money because it's so
fundamental for water and sanitation, hospitalization and care - as I said
- education, agriculture and so on - nutrition in the broad sense of the
word. So there's no major difference between the two distributions - the
difference is of course that there was less money, and a new emphasis on
oil parts, which was fundamental.

Rai: What value of the $300 million spare parts has been actually approved
and is going to come in, so far ?

Halliday: I can't tell you the value off the top of my head but I know 30
to 40 contracts in fact have been submitted and have been approved by the
contracts committee. It's moving, but it's not moving as fast as we all
perhaps had hoped - when the report was finished in probably April/May we
thought it would be very quick. It's been slower, unfortunately. It's, of
course, very frustrating to our colleagues here at the Ministry - and to

Rai: If the oil parts don't come through in this phase am I correct in
assuming that the 4.6 - 4.5 billion isn't going to be the expected revenue

Halliday: Well I think that we have two problems now. Without the parts,
not just coming through but being installed and operational, which in
itself is a major task, I think that there's no way that the Government
can reach the 4.6 gross level. But with the price of oil as it now stands
I think that is, in any how, an unrealistic target because we did not plan
on that price of oil when we came up with the doubling of the program. So
we've been undermined on two counts but the price of oil is by far the
most significant disappointment.

Rai: If the target of 4.6 is unrealistic now am I correct in assuming
there'll have to be another re-allocation or re-distribution of what
resources are going to be available in this phase ?

Halliday: Well, the Government of Iraq is very much aware of the problem,
obviously - they've had discussions with us and they have set up a device
to prioritize the contracts that go to the [unclear] committee [over] the
months and those priorities are both sectoral and cross-sectoral but the
focus will still continue to be on foodstuffs, medical supplies, drugs -
as required - the oil parts because of their fundamental up-front need,
and fourthly electricity support and then the other sectors will have to
be prioritized in the light of whatever revenue would appear to be
available after those have been met as much as possible.

Rai: So those will be the priority areas ...

Halliday: ... under these circumstances. But everything else, you see,
there's nothing less important it's just a matter of where do you put your
now more limited resources.

Rai: I see, from my understanding of the figures, the electricity sector
has actually moved up in priority from the last phase ...

Halliday: ... that's correct ...

Rai: ... and is of greater significance now. I mean, you've said something
about how it underpins other areas. Is it also correct to say that that's
perhaps the part of the infrastructure - the health infrastructure -
which most critically needs support at the moment and that is why the
prioritization has occurred ?

Halliday: Well, it was always a high priority item but under the $2
billion - which gave us $1.3 bn net per six months - something like 1 or
1.1 billion went into food and medicine so there was really very little
choice left as to what to do with the balance and we spread it, or the
Goverment, I should say, spread it very thin - there was no alternative.

When there was a possibility of additional resources then clearly the
emphasis, some of the emphasis, went into electricity. But electricity
attached to a water and sanitation system without the infrastructure being
repaired doesn't work either so, you know, the problem is we need
everything at the same time - and that always makes it extremely
difficult, in fact it makes it possible.

So it's always been a very difficult decision as to what, and where, you
put the emphasis. And I think the Government has done its best to try and
rationalize - again, with limited income.

Rai: You yourself have just placed a lot of emphasis, and in the
Secretary-General's report there's a lot of emphasis on this child
malnutrition, stabilized at a pretty alarming level ...

Halliday: That's right.

Rai: Is it your belief that the enhanced programme will have an effect on
those figures ?

Halliday: In my mind, in terms of acute malnutrition, it sounds strange to
say it but in fact you can see results in the short run because through
therapeutic feeding of these children either through, normally through the
health centers throughout the country, six weeks, two months of
therapeutic feeding and you can see immediate results and those children
will go off the acute list so to speak.

The next challenge, of course, is then to sustain them [at] the more basic
intake, without the special feeding and make sure they don't become
chronic [unclear] cases.

Where we've had disappointment most is in the chronic malnutrition area
where it takes much longer to see progress (a) because there's no targeted
special feeding for this group ... 30 % is already such a large number
it's beyond targeting so to speak. And secondly when you've had young
people, children, who have suffered from malnutrition already, maybe, for
a year or two - you don't see, you know, six months is not going to make a
dramatic difference, particularly six months of a food basket which
doesn't have - is not rich in - animal proteins, cheese, milk - some of
these things which would perhaps make a difference quicker. So it's not
surprising, I guess, to see these figures it's just frustratingly
disappointing that we have sustained this large percentage.

Now we're hoping that the percentage in the south [and] center will also
go down as it has in the north but I don't have those figures, yet.

Rai: I understand that in the Food and Agriculture Organisation Report
[in] 1995 there was a suggestion in one part of the report that
undernutrition, malnutrition - a key part to a large part of it was going
to be a rise in household incomes through employment and that that could
only happen when the economy as a whole was reflated.

What do you feel about that assertion ?

Halliday: No, I agree with that assessment. I think this is where
sanctions become so difficult to live with because until the economy
recovers and the massive unemployment problem goes away the level of
income, the level of buying power for the average Iraqi is so low
currently that additional fruits, vegetables, meat products, eggs, cheese,
milk - in addition to the basics of the food basket - that capacity is not
adequately there. Thus, I think, the chronic malnutrition problem.

We have got to see a major turnaround clearly in terms of manufacturing
services, all the other employment areas, so that people can get back to
work and that the economy is strong enough to - and the currency becomes
stronger so that the buying power returns. I mean it's a major task - it's
going to be a very long, slow - I think painful - process.

Rai: I think you've gone on record as saying that it could take 10 or 20
years for Iraq to recover from what's been going on over the last eight
years. Is that right ?

Halliday: I believe I have. That's probably a foolish thing to have
even said but it's - I think I was perhaps not being unduly pessimistic
when I said that and I think if you interview some of the senior
government officials you'll get the same sort of hard but possibly
realistic assessment because clearly with the price of oil, and the
limitation it places on  revenues for the future and together with the
need for compensation and so on it's, there's going to be such a horrific
demand on the revenues of Iraq for the next 20 years - it's going to be a
management challenge to say the least.

To invest this money wisely in the various sectors knowing that all of
these sectors - as we've just discussed - require attention, immediately.
Electric power is now running below 40 % of what it used to be and
meantime the population has increased so effectively it's even lower than
that ... the education system is in tatters, the schools, the books, the
desks, the facilities are [in] a dreadful state.

So, I mean there's going to be a tremendous [problem] - how to respond to
the average Iraqi as quickly as possible, knowing the resources are going
to be very tight. I mean either there's going to be massive borrowing - I
think I've been quoted as saying what we need is sort of a Marshall plan,
you could say but, you know, where's the funding for that going to come
from ? It needs a huge crash programme. But I worry about Iraq's capacity
to produce that sort of money in the short term and also to get back some
of the skills that have been lost in the last several years - the figures
I've seen are over 2 million highly qualified, skilled Iraqi professionals
have gone overseas. They will need to come back. The teaching profession -
which has been thinned out - needs to be re-established. 

There's some really basic requirements to get this whole economy and this
society back on it's feet and back on track, as it was you know,
whatever it was, eight years ago.

Rai: I don't know whether I should turn the tape off but ... Eric Falt was
quoted as saying that part of the personal reasons why you were resigning
might have included frustrations with the current programme and the
sanctions situation.

Halliday: Yes. I believe that sanctions are a very blunt instrument. It's
indiscriminate. It does not work in terms of it's intended purpose vis a
vis change in governance or approach and it discriminates in a sense
against the weak and the poor and the lower echelons of the economic scale
in a way that I find unacceptable, contrary to the basic human rights of
individuals throughout the world which we in the United Nations are so,
you know, wedded to. And as an instrument for change I find it to be a
failure and a very tragic one and I think in Iraq we've all learned that
lesson, including the member states.

I think it's a policy growing out of
bankruptcy in terms of ideas how to work better with those member states
who often temporarily step out of line, so to speak, with the views and
the wishes of a great majority of member states worldwide ... some
alternative has to be found and I know the United Nations, the
Secretary-General is, and colleagues, are working on alternatives to
sanctions of this type but of course there are no simple answers - but
it's something that needs to be done.

So I find it almost an incompatiblity, being a United Nations official and
overseeing a sanctions programme of this type -  and it's a difficult
assignment from that point of view, together with the politics of this
programme, both from the Baghdad end and from the New York end - politics
in what is basically a humanitarian assistance programme and [where] we
should not have politics.

So there's a number of different frustrations there and I'm optimistic
that we will see improvements in the future - I think we're beginning to
see it in nutrition and I think somebody else will come in here ... who'll
do probably a better job than I will in terms of oversight, observation,
management, administration. It's OK - this is not, er - I don't want any
exaggeration as to any loss there would be in my particular departure.
Many people can do this job.

Needham: Do you see any hope for the lifting of the economic sanctions any
time soon ?

Halliday: Well that's something that, you know, I have just no basis ... I
would like to think that sanctions would be lifted but there are going to
be severe pre-requisites to that and these decisions are made only by the
member states on the Security Council so I have no knowledge or capacity
or authority to make any serious [or] useful observations.


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