From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Preparing for the worst

Date 24 Feb 2003 15:22:18 -0500

Note #7605 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Preparing for the worst
February 21, 2003

Preparing for the worst

U.N. says millions of children, other civilians would be casualties of Iraq

by John Filiatreau

LOUISVILLE - A U.S. war on Iraq would put 30 percent of Iraqi children under
five years old - 1.26 million children - at risk of death from malnutrition,
according to a confidential United Nations planning document.
The report says an attack would also cause huge numbers of civilian injuries,
overwhelm an already overtaxed and under-equipped healthcare system, worsen a
current nutritional crisis, create hundreds of thousands of refugees and
bring outbreaks of disease in "epidemic if not pandemic proportions."
The draft document, Likely Humanitarian Scenarios, dated Dec. 10, 2002, was
prepared by U.N. contingency planners and leaked to The Times of London in
December. A number of related U.N.  documents on the humanitarian situation
were leaked earlier this year to a non-governmental organization by U.N.
field staff in Iraq.
These documents estimate that:
  *  As many as 500,000 people in Iraq could require medical treatment as a
result of "direct or indirect" war-related injuries, according to estimates
by the World Health Organization. The report says existing shortages of
essential medical items in the country would be exacerbated by the "likely
absence of a functioning primary health care system in a post-conflict
  *  Destruction of water and sanitation facilities would create an emergency
need to provide potable water to 39 percent of the Iraqi population - more
than 10 million people.
  *  More than 3 million people in Iraq would be at risk of starvation and
would require humanitarian food relief -B including more than 2 million
children under five years old who already are severely or moderately
malnourished, and one million pregnant women.
  *  About 900,000 Iraqis would become refugees requiring assistance,
including 100,000 who would need immediate help.
  * About 2 million Iraqis would be without shelter.

The report says the possible conflict in Iraq cannot be compared with the
1991 Gulf war or the 2001 U.S. action in Afghanistan because of the sanctions
in effect in Iraq for the past 12 years. It says 16 million Iraqis now depend
on monthly "food for oil" government rations to feed themselves and their
The United Nations has drawn up contingency plans to feed 10 million
civilians, including more than a million refugees, in the event of a war,
according to Kenzo Oshima, the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs.
According to Oshima, the U.N. is working through various humanitarian
organizations to pre-position in countries near Iraq 10 weeks' worth of food
for 450,000 people, as well as water, shelter and emergency health kits for
240,000 and winter kits for 118,000. He said all these supplies would address
only initial needs.
Oshima said a war would further disrupt the country's infrastructure,
creating fuel shortages and shutting down water-treatment plants throughout
the country. He said 10 million people might need food aid during and after a
war, and as much as 50 percent of Iraq's population could be without safe
water in the wake of a U.S. attack.
He said U.N. officials also assume that two million people would be
internally displaced, and 600,000 to 1.45 million would become refugees and
asylum seekers. Many would seek refuge in the neighboring countries of
Jordan, Syria, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon. (Jordan's government has said that
it would close its border to refugees.)
Oshima said the U.N. has plans for three different scenarios, which
characterize potential war damage as light, medium and heavy. He said the
figures he presented assumed the medium scenario.
He pointed out several times during a press conference that the contingency
planning does not mean that U.N. officials have concluded that war is
inevitable. He said Secretary General Kofi Annan "continues to believe that
inspections can work, that all avenues should be explored to find a peaceful
In December, the U.N. asked for $37.4 million for "preparedness measures" in
anticipation of a U.S.-Iraq war. Oshima said $30 million has been pledged so
far, including $15 million from the United States. But he said that money "is
only for preparedness measures and does not represent actual requirements
that might arise should a conflict occur." In that case, he said, U.N.
officials would have to ask immediately for another $90 million.
Oshima noted that the civilian population in Iraq "is already highly
vulnerable," with a million young children malnourished, five million people
already without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and household
food reserves sufficient for only six weeks. 
So many Iraqis depend on food rations distributed by the government, he said,
that any disruption of those distributions would require humanitarian
agencies to compensate by distributing 460,000 tons of food per month. He
said the task would be "gigantic," requiring the agencies to provide four
times as much food as the U.N. delivered to Afghanistan after the U.S. attack
Oshima said the calculations he was reporting did not take into account the
toll of deaths and injuries a war would produce or the possibility that
weapons of mass destruction would be used.
He added that, while the U.N. considers itself the primary provider of
humanitarian aid, in the event of a U.S. occupation, "the occupying powers
would have certain obligations under international humanitarian law,"
including the Geneva Conventions.
The Center for Economic and Social Rights, a non-governmental organization
that has studied the humanitarian situation in Iraq since 1991, said recently
that the U.N. is not prepared for the "humanitarian disaster" that a U.S.
invasion would bring.
Roger Normand, the group's executive director, said the agency's failure to
"address the humanitarian consequences ... in advance" is "not just
irresponsible, but a violation of ethical and legal principles." He added,
"It is impossible to conduct this war without doing extraordinary damage to
innocent men, women and children in Iraq."
Normand said the U.N.'s $30 million in pledges for humanitarian aid would
provide "only one day's worth of supplies."
He said his conclusions were based on the findings of a research team that
visited Iraq in January and on confidential internal U.N. memos.
While humanitarian agencies must strengthen "the existing system of  food
distribution," Normand said, it should not do so "by replacing it with
dropped (food) packets from the same planes that will be bombing the
country," as was the case in Afghanistan.
Normand concluded, "It is safe to predict that the humanitarian crisis
resulting from war in Iraq would far exceed the capacity of U.N. and
international relief agencies."
Sarah Zaidi, CESR's research director, said the precedent of Afghanistan is
troubling. In the wake of that action, she said, the United States was
supposed to "provide food (and) medicine and rehabilitate the whole system
and provide quite a bit of aid," but hasn't "delivered on that promise at
The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, also has
warned in an interview that another war in Iraq could cause "a catastrophe
without precedent" in the Middle East.
Despite the government's oil-for-food program, da Silva said, half of Iraq's
pregnant women are anemic and 30 percent of newborns are undernourished. He
said a dozen years of economic sanctions has not "pressured the regime the
way the Security Council believed it would," and the punitive measures "have
fallen mostly on the population."
A bill introduced by Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) would require President Bush
to report on "the full implications" of a war - including those for security
of the Middle East and the United States, the expense and the cost in terms
of human lives - before an attack is launched.
Noting that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is "a vicious dictator" whose
behavior must be monitored and controlled, the measure notes that the law
authorizing the President to use force against Iraq requires that he make
frequent reports to Congress on the steps he has taken and on his plans for
the future. 
It therefore demands "a full accounting of the implications, both positive
and negative, of initiating military action against Iraq in regard to
homeland security, the war on terrorism, regional stability in the Middle
East and the Middle East peace process and proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction," as well as estimates of casualties, expenses, and plans for a
post-war occupation of Iraq including humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people
and neighboring nations forced to accommodate refugees.
Similarly, a coalition of non-governmental organizations has urged the
president of the U.N. Security Council to ask the secretary general for a
briefing on the "humanitarian vulnerability" of Iraqi civilians, especially
children. The organizations include CARE International, the Mennonite Central
Committee, World Vision International and Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is supporting an emergency-preparation
appeal from Action by Churches Together (ACT), a World Council of
Churches-affiliated alliance of which the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a
member. PDA also is supporting the shipment of pediatric medicines to Iraq
through Church World Service in connection with the "All My Children" appeal.
For additional information on PDA activities, visit its Web site:

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