TEHRAN (Asremrooz):Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, made the remarks during an interview with the Tehran Times.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Can you tell me about the purpose of your visit to Iran?
A: I think of two, first to talk to the national disaster management authorities about disaster preparedness and disaster management and a great deal of work has gone into improving the capacity and scales of dealing with disaster management issues in Iran. Because, unfortunately, Iran is a country prone to natural disasters and I think we can use the experience of Iran to help neighboring countries and also globally. And I am also here to talk about some of the country’s specific issues, as well as Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria which concern this country.
Q: It is true that medicine is not included in the sanctions list against Iran but due to the financial sanctions against Iran it is almost impossible to import medicine and this has affected the lives of ordinary people here. Many patients are actually dying because they do not have access to vital medicines. Has the UN reacted to this issue or helped to overcome the problem?
A: There are humanitarian exemptions including for medicines. What I have offered to the NGOs and also to the government because I understand the point which is made about the fact that although those exemptions exist there are financial institutions that are concerned about potential consequences, should they become involved. So, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, both major UN agencies that have a heap amount of expertise in procurement of medicines, have offered their help and support to the government and to the NGOs to ensure that those medicines are available.
Q: But in practice no one has done anything for Iranian patients so far!
A: That is not true. We have offered them help and support. the government have not come to us and asked us to use our procurement facilities and I offered that help again today and I also asked the (Iranian foreign) minister and our NGO colleagues to give me the data about the impact and we have been asking for this for some time because I think it is important that if I am going to break the pace about what the impact is then I have a data that I can use. I don’t have it right now. I have asked for it and I hope that I would receive it.
Q: Did you talk about this issue with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mr. Zarif?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: There are many people in Iran who are still suffering from illnesses related to the chemical weapons attack against Iran by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein in 1980s. What the UN has done for these patients and what are its plans to help them?
A: First of all, on our rule of the use of chemical weapons, UN doesn’t support the use of chemical weapons in any situation. On the issue of the importation of medicines we have offered the help of UNICEF and World Health Organization with respect to that. They have huge procurement expertise. On more specific programs, I am afraid I’m not able to answer that and I’d be quite happy to ask the team here to find out. It is not my area of work. There are a couple of UN agencies dealing with this. I am not quite familiar with their programs.
Q: How can regional countries help the Syrian people, particularly those who are in dire need of food and water?
A: First of all, being able to get access is crucial which is why I have spoken to all those countries that have some degree of influence either on opposition groups or on the government to try to secure us that access. We are able to get some of our aid across conflict line. But the scale of the challenge in Syria is such that we are not getting to all the people that we need to get to. I hear horrendous stories of people who have run out of food, who have moved several times, who don’t have the shelter they require. For me it is important to get to those people.
Q: How can the UN help those Syrian people who have fled their homeland?
A: The UN is already doing a tremendous amount. There are 2,000,000 people who have fled Syria and are registered as refuges with UN refugee agencies. Some of them are being accommodated in camps for example in Jordan and Iraq. The Turkish government itself is providing support through camps in Turkey. But the majority of people are now in camps. They are in local communities which is putting a lot of stress on those communities. We are providing assistance in the form of cash vouchers for example. In addition to the shelters that are being provided for some, access to healthcare, the host communities and the host countries are providing education. But all of those are putting major strain on those countries which are supporting refugees. The World Food Program is seeking to provide food to 3,000,000 Syrians inside but because of the constraints that I mentioned earlier we weren’t able to get to that number as yet. UNICEF has worked to secure safe drinking water to over 10,000,000 Syrians. Millions of children have been vaccinated all by the help of UN inside Syria.
Q: What is the prospect for the Syrian refugees?
A: I don’t think those people are able to return now, because of the insecurity. That is why getting a political solution to the crisis in Syria is so urgent because without that political solution the fighting will not stop, as long as the fighting goes on and some of it is intensely brutal and violent. If that fighting doesn’t stop then more people will flee. People desperately want to go home. I’ve talked to a lot of refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon; they desperately wanted to go home. Many of them were thinking they were leaving for a short period of time. They can’t quite believe that the crisis is going on for so long.
Q: Would you please explain about Iran’s cooperation with the UN body under your leadership?
A: I signed a cooperation agreement today (Sunday) with the department of foreign affairs and we are going to focus on continuing our strategic engagement and dialogue and discussion on humanitarian issues and I particularly would like to see Iran play a role as we plan for the world humanitarian summit which will take place in two to three years’ time. We are looking strengthening our relationship in information management, in operational effectiveness, in capacity building both for the government and for Iranian NGOs.