20 October 2005
Iraq Makes Progress in Health, Education, Water, Sanitation
Lives of Iraqis are improving, U.N. special envoy says
By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent
United Nations -- While the world has been focused on the perilous security situation in Iraq, thousands of local and international aid workers have been working on projects that, although they might escape media notice, distinctly have improved the everyday lives of millions of Iraqis.
Staffan de Mistura, deputy U.N. special envoy for Iraq, said October 19 that security is a priority for Iraqis, but there definitely are other priorities -- such as water, sanitation, health and education -- "where they felt they would like to see a difference starting from now, even if the situation is not stabilized."
At a press conference to discuss nine projects being undertaken by international donors, Iraq and the United Nations, di Mistura said that the projects are less well known than U.N. support for the political process "because we are being discrete."
"What matters is to have an impact rather than visibility," he said. There are no signs on trucks delivering goods, for example, so as not to attract the attention of terrorists.
The projects, which deal with education, health, water and sanitation, were decided upon after surveying Iraqi civilians about what they wanted, the envoy said. Iraqis told the United Nations that "the political aspect is crucial; it is important, but my child needs to be vaccinated. I want my child to go to school tomorrow."
HEALTH ISSUES ADDRESSED
"There is no cholera in Iraq," di Mistura said. "With sewage in open air and high temperatures, it would be a classical area for cholera. But every single day in Iraq all the water areas that are vulnerable are chlorinated through a $22 million program."
"There is no polio. You should be surprised because there is polio in the region," the U.N. envoy continued. Yet, in September 2004, during a period of intense violence there was a two-week massive vaccination campaign organized with Iraqi authorities.
About 4.9 million children were vaccinated with the help of a donated messaging system that allowed health workers to send telephone messages to 5 million families telling them dates and locations where they could have their children vaccinated, he said.
Di Mistura mentioned several other programs: one that is keeping malaria under control; another delivering 3,500 tons of high protein biscuits to 1.2 million moderately malnourished children and 400,000 pregnant women; another aimed at fortifying wheat flour; and one in the north that is iodizing 90 percent of the salt. Plans are under way to expand this iodizing program to other areas of the country, he added.
Water tankers make sure hospitals receive water when supplies are cut and the United Nations is providing technical support and spare parts to local engineers to repair water plants, he said.
"You don't see it because good news doesn't make news necessarily," di Mistura said.
SUPPORT FOR EDUCATION
"Children are going to schools. Why? About 7.9 million boys and girls were each ... provided a little bag with what was needed for school. Close to 6 million books were printed," he said.
Di Mistura said that throughout Iraq, 223 schools were partially restored and another 115 completely restored.
"Children are not in the street when the major massacres take place because they are luckily going to school. That is certainly making some difference," he said.
All programs are being handled by Iraqis and supplies are being distributed by local officials in each area, the U.N. envoy said.
FOCUS ON CAPACITY BUILDING
The next six months will be crucial for the international community and Iraq as the country moves through the next phase of the political process, which includes elections for a new government.
For the United Nations and international donors that phase will require a greater focus on capacity building -- training ministry officials, donor coordination, helping the parliament learn how to govern -- as well as continuing local projects such as sewage disposal facilities in the south and a desalinization plant in Basra.
Working in Iraq, di Mistura said, he sees "after one of those terrible moments [of violence] … with what determination, what capacity is in them, the stamina of the Iraqis themselves reacting to all those tragedies and how they are actually trying to go to a normal life.
"They have 5,000 years of tradition, 200 billion barrels of oil, very bright people who are engineers, doctors, lawyers -- capable people. What they need is just a moment of stability," he said.
For additional information, see Iraq Update.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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