Source Pravda.Ru

Iraq needs another 8 bln dollars

Iraq's neglected health system needs up to eight billion dollars over the next four years for reconstruction, the deputy health minister said, noting that US funds have not yet made much impact.

The United States pledged 786 million dollars in 2004 to build clinics, repair neglected hospitals and buy modern medical equipment.

But some 25 percent of the money - which is fast running out - was spent on security as a bloody insurgency that emerged after the March 2003 US-led invasion targeted the projects, according to US health official.

"Up until now, the impact (of the US reconstruction money) has been very minor," Ammar al-Saffar, the health ministry's number two, told AFP on Tuesday.

Asked in an interview how much money Iraq required to restore its health care system, which suffered decades of neglect under Saddam Hussein, Saffar said: "Over the next four years, we need seven to eight billion dollars just for reconstruction. This does not include the operational budget."

He warned, however, that Iraqi coffers alone were incapable of funding such an investment. "We are looking here and there for donations from the international community."

Washington alone pledged to build and equip 150 primary healthcare centres to provide basic family doctor help to people at a community level.

But the number was cut to 142 because so much cash was spent on security.

"At the time, in early 2004, it looked as though we were heading towards a peaceful environment and people would be able to drive around and do normal construction," the official said.

"But we found that security was very difficult. Twenty-five percent of the budgeted money is just spent on security to protect the building sites and the contractors working on them."

The clinics were all due to be finished by mid-2006 but sources on the ground say this has become an unrealistic goal, estimating that it will take at least until the end of the year if not longer.

The United States is also renovating 19 of Iraq's dilapidated hospitals.

Only one has been restored to date in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, but it was later damaged in an attack and is again under repair, the US official said.

The rest of the hospitals are due to be finished within six to eight months.

As for some 75 million dollars earmarked for medical supplies - such as 5,000 hospital beds, mobile X-ray vans, ventilators for intensive care units and sterilising equipment - the money is expected to be spent by April.

At the same time he regretted that the money was initially contracted to US rather than Iraqi firms because he said a lot of it vanished on overheads and other administrative matters, not to mention security, the AFP reports.

V.Y.