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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: NGOs expand despite security situation

BAGHDAD, 8 December 2003 (IRIN) - While international aid workers have left the country following attacks on the United Nations, the Red Cross and other aid groups, some NGOs have been expanding as aid money has boosted programme activities.

However, other aid groups, which are funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the British Department for International Development (DFID) have been expanding rapidly as money pours into the country for reconstruction. "Our NGOs are doing fine. We just don’t want them named," said Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman for USAID in Iraq. "They’re continuing to expand."

One such group known for its work with local officials on various governance issues was up to 577 people from an original 400, Rossi said. Many of the new employees are Iraqis who know the lie of the land and the language, making it potentially safer for them to do their work rather than their foreign counterparts. "We do have expatriates still in the country," Rossi said. "But it’s understandable that they’re sensitive about going public."

Many of those workers are out in the community, giving civil servants and volunteers seeking government work a crash course on how to be responsive to the people they serve. Under former President Saddam Hussein, community services were paid for piecemeal, from school repairs to road construction. "They’re doing many community projects, starting community associations and getting people to donate money, land and in-kind labour," Rossi said.

USAID expects to spend US $940 million in the coming months, money that has already been appropriated by Congress to be spent in Iraq.

In addition, Bechtel Corpn, a private US contractor, was picking up many of the big infrastructure projects usually implemented by the UN or its help groups, said Francis Canavan, a Bechtel spokesman. Bechtel originally received $680 million to engage in projects such as the reconstruction of Baghdad’s four main sewage treatment plants, building 14 water treatment plants in southern Iraq, and dredging canals to help farmers and the port of Umm Qasr accommodate more shipping, Canavan said.

"Our work is infrastructure repair, so NGOs leaving doesn’t really affect us," Canavan said. "These are really big jobs."

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had been carrying out similar work in electricity, water and sewerage rehabilitation before the second bomb at UN headquarters prompted international staff to move to Amman in neighboring Jordan and do their work from there.

Because of continued sabotage of the electricity lines, Bechtel found plenty of reconstruction work left to do after UNDP suspended its operations, Canavan said. "There’s an enormous problem with transmission lines torn down. We’re replacing towers, too."

With so much money flowing into Iraq for aid projects, it was impossible to spend it quickly, said Yusaf Samiullah, the head of DFID's Baghdad office. DFID had pledged $900 million to reconstruction at a recent donors' conference in Madrid, of which about $350 million had been allocated, he added.

Instead, DFID advisers are working with Iraq’s newly appointed ministers to help them apply a greater degree of accountability to their spending. But no one had decided what would happen to the current ministers once control of the country was handed back to Iraqis, Samiullah said - a step expected to be taken in June 2004.

"Post-transition, these people may have to be re-endorsed by the electorate, so there’s no guarantee the people we have been working with will still be working," Samiullah said. "This uncertainty makes forward planning beyond seven months pretty difficult."

DFID is designing a teaching/management programme for the ministers to last two years, even though a similar programme in Europe took five to seven years to complete, Samiullah said. If everything goes as planned, ministers will start to receive DFID aid and development money as they learn more accountability measures. "What we’re envisaging is country assistance from Britain to Iraq," Samiullah said. "What we’re asking is for the ministers to take over in stages, run things independently and take their own decisions."

DFID also earmarked much of the funds at the Madrid conference for the UN to use on its own reconstruction work. Now that UN work in Iraq had virtually come to a halt, discussions were under way on how that money should be spent, Samiullah said.

Meanwhile, $100 million had been spent by US troops on humanitarian projects in recent months, said Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of Coalition ground forces in Iraq. Money from the "commander’s emergency response fund" had been spent on 13,000 projects and infrastructure improvements, he said. This had been money US troops found as they came into Iraq, he said, including piles of cash found locked in small outbuildings near the former presidential palace compound.

"Money being used is from seized assets," Sanchez said. "In this way, money taken from people of the former regime is being given back [to the public]."

Close to $7 million had been spent on 1,000 water and sewerage projects, and almost $20 million on 2,400 education projects, Sanchez told journalists at a press conference given to publicise the reconstruction achievements. Another sum of nearly $20 million had been spent on cultural projects such as libraries, museums and cultural centres around the country, he said.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003



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