Iraq: Aid work and war plans must not be mixed, agencies urge Administration

News and Press Release
Originally published
Baltimore, February 14, 2003 -- An association representing 160 U.S. aid agencies is urging the U.S. Administration to address humanitarian needs in Iraq, keep aid under civilian control and separate it from military actions. Lutheran World Relief is a member of the Washington-based umbrella group, InterAction.
"Our coalition strongly urges you to continue to work toward a diplomatic resolution to the situation within the context of the United Nations," InterAction President Mary McClymont wrote President George Bush last week. "A large scale conflict would impose great suffering on innocent people." It was the group's third letter to Bush on the topic since last September.

"American non-governmental organizations which provide humanitarian assistance, like their counterparts throughout the world," the letter said, "are bound to respect principles of impartiality and independence." If they are prevented from doing so and aid is subsumed under U.S. military control, McClymont continued, access to the suffering will be jeopardized and international support will be withheld.

Responsibility for "any relief activities carried out or supported by the U.S. government in Iraq should be placed under civilian authorities," the letter said, "with a hand off to the United Nations as soon as possible.

Relatively few U.S. aid agencies work in Iraq at present and those that do have experienced long delays in gaining the necessary U.S. government permits for current projects.

Humanitarian conditions in Iraq, however, already give cause for grave concern. Squeezed during years of crisis and economic hardship, some 16 million of the country's 25 million people now depend on the government for basic food rations. Aid officials warn that this food distribution system may well collapse in a war.

Water-borne diseases are widespread. Half-a-million tons of raw sewage and partially treated sewage enters the Tigris River each day, according to a recent United Nations report. Two-thirds of the water supply reaching private homes is not treated and half the homes in Iraq no longer have piped water, according to a UNICEF survey late last year.

To aid refugees and people displaced from their homes in case of war, LWR has pre-positioned relief goods and is supporting partner organizations in the region. So far LWR has provided $530,000 worth of aid, mostly kits and bedding for families who become caught in the crisis. LWR and its partners have made considerable preparations for this emergency based in part on how the indigenous churches of the Middle East and their local parishes are able to serve people in need.

For more information contact Jonathan Frerichs at (410) 230-2800