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In Defense Of U.N. Aid In Iraq


Yesterday we heard the governor of Iraq's predominantly Kurdish Dohuk Province. It's a place overwhelmed with Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis. Most recently members of the Yazidi minority, some of whom fled first their villages and then the relative safety of Mount Sinjar. Governor Farhad Atrushi faulted many for lack of support. The Kurdish regional government, Baghdad, the U.S., but especially the United nations. One complaint there - too much bureaucracy, he said.

GOVERNOR FARHAD ATRUSHI: To get something from them it will take three weeks, four weeks. Many kids and children will die until I get that thing from them.

SIEGEL: Well, joining us today is Kieran Dwyer who is in Dohuk where he is spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Welcome.

KIERAN DWYER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: As we heard - the governor - he told us yesterday it's one meeting after another, he said. The World Health Organization one hour, UNICEF the next. Multiple phone calls back to Baghdad or Geneva or New York. Nothing gets done, he says. Does he have a point?

DWYER: The governor is a man under certainly a lot of strain. He's had 400,000 displaced people land into his govern and because of its relative safety since June this year. And in the last two weeks half of those people arrived almost overnight - 200,000 people. And we're doing everything we can to help him. Are we doing a lot already? Absolutely. Does a lot more need to be done and do we need to speed up the assistance. Yes, absolutely.

SIEGEL: But just to be clear here, the numbers are huge. The governor says, his school buildings in Dohuk are full of refugees staying there now for shelter. He needs to fix up the schools and get students into the schools soon. He needs, he says, shelter, food, water, electricity for 40 to 50,000 families. Is that within the realm of possibility for the U.N. to deliver, in relatively short order, or do you need more help?

DWYER: Absolutely we need more help. We've had some very generous donor support. And I think, for example, the Saudi government which gave $500 million recently. Because of this massive wave of violence by the so-called Islamic State and the massive displacement that occurred overnight. And I think this needs to be kept in mind. Security conditions were created with the help of some of the allies of Iraq that enabled people to get off that mountain in massive numbers, but they're in terrible shape.

SIEGEL: Well, one of the things we've heard indirectly at least is that many of the Yazidis, who are in Dohuk now, will not go back to their homes for fear of their safety. They say, that neighboring villages are full of hostile people. They speak in terms of a U.N. peacekeeping mission to protect that area before they can go back. Is that even within the realm of possibility?

DWYER: Well, I don't speak these days for the peacekeeping department. But the way these things work is that there needs to be a peace to keep, first of all. And there is no peace to keep in this part of the world at the moment. The so-called Islamic State group and other armed groups are creating havoc and they are very well armed, they are quite vicious, the reports of human rights abuses are shocking. And peacekeeping doesn't go into those kinds of operations.

SIEGEL: When you're asked by people at the U.N. either in New York or Geneva or wherever - what does this look like? How long are we going to be looking after a population of displaced persons and refugees in Dohuk Province, Iraq? What's your best answer?

DWYER: Let me paint the picture out a little bit wider for your audience. There's 400,000 people here since July. And indeed since January this year in Iraq we've seen over 1.2 million people displaced. This is the reason that the United Nations declared the Iraq, what we call, a level three humanitarian emergency. What that means is people's lives are in peril right now and we have to move fast to help keep people alive right now. It's 45 degrees Celsius. That's 110 - 115 degrees here. It is very hard for people. Water - clean water and sanitation, shelter, food, medical assistance. The United Nations is assisting on all of these fronts, but the challenge is massive. We need more help.

SIEGEL: Mr. Dwyer thank you very much for talking with us.

DWYER: OK. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Kieran Dwyer speaking to us from Dohuk in Iraq where he is spokesman for the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.