The early years Initially, UNICEF assisted the Iraqi Government in two key areas: education and health.

By 1956 its first humanitarian assistance programme had helped to protect two million people from malaria.

Beginning in 1953 UNICEF worked to establish a network of child and maternal health services. In the 1960s the programme was expanded and rural health centres were developed.

Simultaneously UNICEF introduced immunisation, disease control and sanitation and health education activities. Also in the 1960s, UNICEF supported the expansion of the Iraqi education system.

In the 1970s and 80s, UNICEF continued to focus on improving children's health and well-being.

The Gulf War emergency

In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf war, UNICEF responded with emergency humanitarian assistance. Water tanks were set up across the country. Immunisation campaigns were rapidly organised. As the Iraqi electricity supply had been extensively damaged, the vaccine cold chain was maintained by UNICEF-supplied, kerosene-run fridges. UNICEF estimates that it supplied 15,000 metric tonnes of high energy food and 930 metric tonnes of medical supplies between 1991 and 92.

The last decade

The last decade has been especially difficult for the Iraqi people. UN sanctions, imposed following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, have been in place since then. The Oil for Food Programme has enabled Iraq to alleviate some humanitarian problems resulting from sanctions. The situation for many families, however, remains precarious.

Water and sanitation

In 1991 UNICEF rushed water tanks, pumps and purification chemicals to the country. In the longer-term it has been working with local partners to establish, and successfully maintain, clean drinking water supplies in communities. This vital programme is aiming to keep diseases, such as diarrhoea, at bay and remove the burden - often falling on girls - of fetching and carrying water over long distances in rural areas.

In northern Iraq, by 2000, more than 70 per cent of the population had either a new or repaired drinking water supply. In addition 9,000 households had been provided with a sanitary latrine. In the south and centre of Iraq, also by 2000, UNICEF had trained 630 engineers, operators and water technicians in water control, sewerage treatment processes and maintenance.


UNICEF responded to the dramatic increase in acute child malnutrition -- peaking in 1996 -- by establishing an innovative 'early warning' system of Community Child Care Units (CCCUs) to detect malnutrition in children under five.

CCCUs are run by 13,000 UNICEF- trained volunteers. They monitor the growth of under-fives, referring malnourished children to health centres for treatment, and provide families with advice on safeguarding their children's health and nutrition. Across Iraq, almost 3,000 CCCUs had been established by 2002.

UNICEF also successfully lobbied for the addition of iodine to household salt and the inclusion of Vitamin A in the routine immunisation programme. By 2000, 90 per cent of household salt was iodised. An innovation that helps to prevent developmental problems in children.


Since 1991, UNICEF has assisted in the re-establishment of a functioning primary school system. In 1992-93 UNICEF provided 800 pre-fabricated classrooms in the north. Here, UNICEF also oversaw the setting up of a printing press, which in its first two years of operation, supplied some 4.3 million school textbooks and examination booklets. Between 1993 and 96, when Iraq was facing serious shortages in educational supplies, UNICEF distributed education kits.

In addition to supplying essential equipment and repairing damaged schools, UNICEF continues to work with officials and teachers to encourage children into school and improve the quality of teaching.


To address the many threats to children's health which emerged after 1991, UNICEF assisted in the rapid resumption of Iraq's immunisation programme. It continues to supply syringes and cold chain support, together with training for health staff. UNICEF also supports efforts to encourage families to have their children immunised. Iraq has not had a polio case for three years.

March 2003



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