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U.N. releases computers for Iraqi schools By Alistair Lyon BAGHDAD, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Iraqi schools, starved of equipment after an eight-year-old trade embargo, will receive more than 1,000 computers that the U.N. sanctions committee had blocked since June 1997, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday. ``The approval of this contract is obviously good news in a sector that has suffered extensively over the past eight years and which needs much support,'' Eric Falt told reporters. He said two unnamed Security Council members had held up the deal, objecting that the computers could be used for other purposes and questioning the quantity sought. The $1 million contract with an Indian company won approval only after the computers' processors were downgraded from Intel Corp's Pentium 133 to the Intel 486, Falt said. He said the Education Ministry would distribute the computers, due to arrive at the Iraqi port of Um Qasr later this year, to 200 schools in central and southern Iraq. Falt said two other requests for computers were awaiting approval by the sanctions committee that vets all contracts under Iraq's oil-for-food programme with the United Nations. Sanctions, including a ban on Iraqi oil exports, were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Under a six-month plan agreed with the United Nations in May, extra Iraqi oil sales were set to generate $3.1 billion for humanitarian spending. Low oil prices and lack of oil industry spare parts have cut this to a projected $1.7 billion. U.N. agencies had hoped to increase allocations to the education sector to $100 million in the latest six-month phase of the programme from $27 million in the first three phases. ``Because of the low oil revenues we now know we will fall far short of this target in the education sector,'' Falt said. ``In northern Iraq, the revised allocation...is projected at $17 million instead of the $47 million that had been planned.'' Citing the Education Ministry, Falt said 8,000 school buildings required rehabilitation and 5,000 new schools needed to be built for Iraq's expanding population. Teaching standards had declined due to overcrowding, lack of maintenance and shortages of textbooks, stationery and paper, he said, adding that 300,000 new desks were needed now. ``The devastation of the Iraqi education system requires much more than the current programme allows,'' Falt quoted Denis Halliday, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, as saying. Almost all the 50,000 locally assembled desks and 25,000 blackboards ordered in the first two phases of the oil-for-food programme had been distributed and textbook production at a Baghdad printing press had doubled from its previous coverage of 15 percent of the needs in central and southern Iraq. Falt said the first of three consignments of printing equipment, worth a total $9.3 million, had arrived on Thursday in Arbil in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, under a UNESCO project to rehabilitate school book printing facilities there. ``The current difficulties of the education sector are particularly tragic since they are occurring in a country that enjoyed a high level of education and was renowned throughout the Middle East for the quality of its schools,'' Falt said. The dropout rate was now very high and a brain drain of teachers and professors had become serious. Poor nutrition, plus the lack of proper water and sanitation in schools ``underlined the need for the cross-sectoral approach'' in the enhanced phase of the oil-for-food programme, Falt said. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html