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U.N. releases computers for Iraqi schools

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

 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

 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

 ``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 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

 ``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. 

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