UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Interview with Humanitarian Area Coordinator for the south
BASRA, 10 June 2003 (IRIN) - As head of the UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) in southern Iraq, the coordinating body for nine UN agencies in that part of the country, Kim Bolduc is a woman with a mission. In an interview with IRIN, she outlined the humanitarian needs of the population there and the challenges she sees the humanitarian community facing. While dissatisfied with the pace of activities - noting the impatience of the Iraqi people in seeing real change on the ground - she remained optimistic for the future
QUESTION: What are the most pressing humanitarian needs in southern Iraq?
ANSWER: These needs have not changed significantly since we assumed this operation two months ago. Water and sanitation, urgent support to the health system, basic education and food remain our main concerns. Since food distribution restarted on 1 June, this has become less of a concern to us and we are now providing water to much of the population through a UNICEF- [UN Children's Fund-] led programme [see IRIN report: In the south, fresh water comes out of a truck], and we are also repairing water-treatment plants that were looted in the aftermath of the war. But the health situation is still precarious - clinics and hospitals that were looted are not yet repaired.
Q: How would you define the nature of the crisis facing southern Iraq, and to what extent is the recent war the cause of this crisis?
A: I would say that more than a conventional humanitarian crisis, we are facing a chronic structural crisis here in Iraq. The war was a brutal interruption to the work that we were doing here before, but it would be wrong to say that these problems appeared because of the war - rather that the war exacerbated existing requirements.
Q: Now that the war is over, is there a sufficient level of security for the humanitarian community to carry out its work?
A: Security remains a real issue here, not just for the UN but also for the whole population, and so long as a sense of fear remains, then security is not satisfactory. I must say that security here in the south is better than it is in Baghdad, and the British military authorities have done their best, but it is still not enough. The political context here in southern Iraq is unpredictable, and that uncertainty in a climate full of arms makes people fearful.
Q: There is clearly some anger in the streets of Basra against the occupying forces. Is there a danger that the Iraqi people will tar the UN with the same brush?
A: The informed population knows that there is a difference between us and the Coalition, and we have tried to pass messages to let the population know what the UN is and what work we do. They see that we are civilians, that we do not carry guns, and that we do not use a military escort. They see us working for the population, and these messages do not go unnoticed, but having said that, there are certainly times when being a foreigner remains a label that we share.
Expectations are very high here, and that can make life very difficult.
Q: What are those expectations?
A: The population is becoming more and more impatient for real change, and as time goes by they demonstrate an increasing level of freedom to voice those claims. People know that they are now living in a free country, but conditions are still very poor. The expectations of people freed from dictatorship are very high, and in a wealthy country like this, problems can arise if provisions for change are not made quickly enough. The greatest challenge facing the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) now is to make sure that change keeps pace with those expectations.
Q: Have the CPA succeeded in doing this up to now?
A: Let's say that the CPA needs to gain speed in doing this.
Q: Are you satisfied with the progress the UN have made up to now?
A: I can't say that I'm satisfied, because there is still so much to be done - but I am optimistic.
Themes: (IRIN) Other
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