Iraq

Impoverished Iraqis unable to prepare for war

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By Kate Holton

LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Iraqi civilians are frightened, vulnerable and completely unprepared for a possible U.S.-led attack on their country, according to a group of recent visitors to Iraq.

Human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, Oxfam Technical Coordinator Paul Sherlock and British Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas, who have all recently been to Baghdad, described a destitute and impoverished nation struggling to cope with daily life after more than 10 years of sanctions.

Oxfam, the Green Party and Jagger are opposed to war in Iraq.

"It is clear that they understand that this is a war that will be devastating to all," Jagger, the Nicaraguan-born ex-wife of Rolling Stones star Mick Jagger, told Reuters late on Thursday.

"The disparity of forces will leave behind a terrible slaughter of innocent victims. There is a sense of total helplessness."

The United States and Britain have sent tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf and say they will disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force unless he discloses and destroys its suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq denies possessing such weapons.

MEP Lucas, who travelled to Iraq in January as part of a European parliamentary delegation, said the Iraqi people were already suffering a humanitarian crisis and that they did not have the resources to prepare for another conflict.

"It is not something that might happen. It is actually happening right here and now," she said.

"You got the sense that for a lot of people, the idea of having any kind of extra resources to be able to cope with a disaster are just laughable.

"It is just so difficult living from day to day that the chances they could ever be able to plan for the future in any meaningful way is just laughable. There is no way that that could possibly happen."

Aid agencies working in the area have said that more than half the population, over 16 million people, are dependent on food rations and that these rations would almost certainly be cut off during a war.

FAILING SANITATION

Sherlock, Oxfam's leading sanitation expert who has worked in the region for more than 20 years, also gave damning evidence about the country's ailing sanitation system, the chances of it surviving a military campaign, and the effect this would have on an already malnourished population.

"Failing water and sanitation systems have spread disease and Iraq's economic collapse has left more than 60 percent of its people dependent upon food rations for survival," he said.

"It has meant, according to the World Health Organisation, that the nutritional status of people is very bad, particularly children.

"With the quality of the water so bad, it means that children under five are very vulnerable."

Sherlock also agreed that the Iraqi people could not afford to prepare for a looming conflict.

"When doctors and nurses are on 16 or 17 dollars a month... you can't buy bottled water," he said. "So generally people cannot afford to stockpile or do anything to prepare.

"I would imagine that for a very large part of that 60 percent (dependent on aid), they won't have any stockpiles of food, so they can't make any preparations in those conditions.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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