UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Iraq on Tuesday to raise its oil exports to previous levels to ensure there was enough money for the UN-administered oil-for-food programme.
In a report to the Security Council, Annan said he was "very much concerned" that revenue of $5.556 billion earmarked for the current 180-day phase of the programme would not be available.
The phase began on December 6 and coincided with the start of a seven-week slump in Iraqi oil sales, due to a dispute with the United Nations over the pricing formula.
Although the row has been settled, exports remain depressed, and the office of the Iraq programme has forecast that unless they recover, revenue in the current phase will be 3.5 billion dollars -- a low level not seen since 1998.
"Given its proven capacity, I urge the Government of Iraq to increase its daily average rate of oil exports under the programme to at least the levels in the previous phase," Annan wrote.
Iraq's oil exports in the previous phase averaged just over 2 million barrels a day, for total revenue of more than $9.7 billion.
Annan noted that since the Security Council removed the ceiling on Iraq's authorised oil exports in December 1999, the government "is indeed in a position to reduce current malnutrition levels and improve the health status of the Iraqi people."
But, he said, while chronic malnutrition rates had fallen in the three northern provinces of Iraq -- where UN agencies cater for the needs of the largely Kurdish population -- incidence of malnutrition remained high in government-held areas.
In March 1997, the energy content of the food ration for all Iraqis averaged 1,295 kilocalories per person per day, he noted. "Over the past three months, the average caloric value of the food ration provided had risen to 2,270 kilocalories per person per day, against a targeted caloric value of the food basket of 2,472 kilocalories per person per day," he wrote.
"Unfortunately, the poorer strata of society are often forced to barter what they receive through the food basket in order to procure other basic necessities," he said.
"The purchasing power has steadily declined and, while food items are readily available in markets, they are unaffordable to the average Iraqi citizen.
Thus, even though Iraq has a surfeit of vegetables, fruits and animal products, the majority of the Iraqis cannot afford to buy them," he added.–AFP.
©--Agence France Presse 2001.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)