Christian Aid and its partner organisations in northern Iraq fear the consequences of war could be very serious for the Iraqi people, who are already extremely vulnerable after decades of war, sanctions and the actions of the current regime.
The humanitarian impact of another war is likely to be far-reaching, though this will depend on the nature, duration, intensity and extent of any military action. This is particularly true of the extent to which people would be forced from their homes - the number and likely movements of displaced people is difficult to predict.
However, the immediate consequences of military action are likely to include civilian casualties, as many military installations are close to densely populated areas. As transport and other infrastructural facilities, such as electricity, water and sanitation plants have both military and civilian uses, damage to these installations is likely to affect the civilian population immediately, leading to water shortages and increasing the risk of disease.
Iraq's population is largely urban and more dependent upon external sources of food than in a predominantly rural economy. A rapidly deteriorating economy that has been on a war footing for years has resulted in well over half of Iraqis (upwards of 14 million people) being dependent on UN food rations distributed under the Oil for Food programme. Food rations last between a few weeks and two months. Any breakdown in the complex food distribution system could mean the majority of the population will quickly suffer shortages of basic food supplies.
Christian Aid's response
Christian Aid is helping partners in northern Iraq plan an immediate response should war break out and supporting Norwegian Church Aid and the Middle East Council of Churches with their emergency response, which is based in Baghdad. As our northern Iraqi partners are already doing development work in the region, they can build on this work to act quickly and appropriately in the event of war.
We are providing funds for water, sanitation, essential household items, tents and shelter materials for people who are forced from their homes. We are also funding partners with experience in international humanitarian law to protect human rights. They are documenting and disseminating documents concerning human rights under international and Islamic law in the event of conflict.
Christian Aid's largest partner, the Middle East Council of Churches, is planning to provide food and other essential relief items for people who are displaced by conflict. Reception centres are being established through churches and mosques, where people are likely to go in the event of a crisis. These are concentrated around the four cities of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul and Basra.
Another key partner, REACH, is about to take charge of two UN warehouses in Erbil and Suleimaniya, enabling us to provide for an additional 30,000 people.
Christian Aid is also planning to provide funding for a mobile water treatment unit, an initiative that will be implemented by Norwegian Church Aid. This will provide drinking water to between 150,000 and 200,000 people.
Four partners are co-ordinating a training programme designed to help local communities mitigate the worst effects of a potential chemical or biological attack. Communities will benefit from training in first aid and necessary health precautions as well as distributions of protective material such as plastic sheeting, simple gas masks and antidotes to chemical weapons.
Christian Aid will be supporting Action by Churches Together (www.acti-intl.org), a global alliance of churches and aid agencies that work together in emergencies to save lives and support communities regardless of race, creed or nationality.
Christian Aid's aim is to ensure all emergency work meets internationally agreed standards. As a signatory to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Code of Conduct, we are working with partners to ensure they comply with its principles. We also endorse the SPHERE standards, a series of principles on good practice in emergency response (www.sphereproject.org)