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[casi] Interview with Carel de Rooy 19 march

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Interview with Carel de Rooy, head of Unicef's Baghdad mission, before the start of the war

Baghdad, March 18. Dr. Geert Van Moorter and Dr. Colette Moulaert, Medical Aid for the Third 
World's Medical Team in Baghdad, were able to arrange a meeting with Carel de Rooy, the Dutch head 
of Unicef's mission in Iraq, whom they already met last April 2002 during the International Peace 
Mission S.O.S. Iraq. As all expatriate UN staff was ordered to evacuate the country, De Rooy was 
about to leave when they met.

Geert Van Moorter. The atmosphere was hectic at the Unicef office. Everything was being readied for 
the departure of the last remaining foreigners. Carel de Rooy was still in his office. We were 
happy to meet again. He looked tired yet he willingly made time for us. We told him the objectives 
of our mission: to testify how the embargo and the war are violating the people's right to health 
and health care and to assist the Iraqi public health care administration. Carel de Rooy clearly 
appreciates this and agrees to an interview.

Has Unicef been able to prepare for this war? Did it receive the necessary means?

Carel de Rooy. Of course we hoped until the final hour that war could be prevented, yet we started 
planning six months ago and money started to come in about three months ago. Eighty to ninety 
percent comes from Unicef's reserves. There was very little support from other sources. We came up 
with a plan for the most vulnerable groups: children under five, pregnant women, and internal 
refugees. For the children we tried to tackle different risk factors: measles, diarrhea, acute 
respiratory tract infections, and malnutrition. If two or more of these risk factors are present, 
chances that a child survives an emergency situation are few. We try to do as much as possible 
before war breaks out.

What exactly does that mean?

Carel de Rooy. Four million children were immunized against polio and 400,000 against measles. We 
supported the Ministry of Health to realize this. For moderately malnourished children we 
distributed a one-month ration of protein biscuits. That was made possible through the 2,800 
Community Child Centers of the Ministry of Health and the 14,000 Iraqi volunteers they trained.

Also the prevention of diarrhea is important. Currently, children have an average of 15 episodes of 
diarrhea per year. In comparison, in 1990 Iraqi children had only four episodes of diarrhea on the 
average. The incidence of diarrhea will certainly increase when the pumps of the sewerage system 
are not functioning anymore because of the bombings. Unfortunately we had to concentrate on Baghdad 
for our diarrhea prevention program. We were not able to expand the program to the rest of the 
country because of lack of funds. When a power blackout occurs, the pumps of water treatment and 
sewerage facilities will have to use generators. With our assistance, Iraqi engineers worked day 
and night to repair the generators. We also paid attention to the water delivery trucks. The 
government bought some seventy of them. We bought pumps to siphon water from the Tigris in the 
trucks and then to containers of five to ten cubic meters. These containers are now being 
distributed throughout the city, most of them in Saddam City, the poorest part of Baghdad. That is 
how we try to guarantee a water ration of at least 15 liters per person per day. That is only ten 
percent of what they are using now.

Also pregnant women are at risk. Sixty percent of them have anemia. Maternal mortality is very high 
at 300 per 100,000, twice as high as in 1990, before the embargo. The diet lacks protein because of 
the low purchasing power of the people. In 1990 a worker earned 150 dinar a month. At that time two 
to three dinar still bought six kilos of meat. Now a teacher earns 15,000 dinar but it will cost 
him 3,000 dinar to buy a chicken. The chain of anemia and protein deficiency brought about by the 
lack of purchasing power is a direct effect of the embargo.

How is the cooperation with the Iraqi authorities?

Carel de Rooy. Everything happens in cooperation with them. Everything is done like this (folds the 
fingers of both hands together): immunization, water distribution, planning. Technically, Unicef is 
close to the government. Throughout the years we have built a relation based on trust and tight 

You are leaving Iraq. Wouldn't you like to stay?

Carel de Rooy. (sighs) Yes, I would have liked to stay but I'm forced to leave. This morning I was 
ordered by Koffi Annan to evacuate. (emotional) It is awful to leave my Iraqi staff behind.

We ask Carel de Rooy if we can join the activities of the Uniceff staff. He promises to introduce 
us to the 'officer in charge', Hattim George, an Iraqi who takes over as head of the local UN 
staff. When we leave, his Iraqi assistant, Fadia Alwan, advises us to be careful and stay indoors 
tomorrow, when hell will break loose. They really care for us.

It definitely is a strange feeling. Almost all foreigners are leaving with mixed emotions and it is 
as if we have to fill the vacuum; as if we have to comfort the Iraqis who stay behind. But Carel de 
Rooy has earned my respect. I feel sorry for him because he has to leave the country against his 
will. We are lucky because we can stay. Maybe most people would say Carel is lucky but he and we 
are thinking otherwise. We feel that we can have a contribution here, for the people and against 
the war. And that is wonderful. With all the appreciation and warm reactions of the people, it is 
not a sacrifice.

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