Iraq: Humanitarian operation underway in conflict zone

In the weeks leading up to the armed conflict in Iraq and the days since it began, waves of displaced residents in Iraq and refugees in bordering countries have moved to safer ground, many with little more than the clothes on their backs. In response, the American Red Cross is working with Red Cross Movement partners to provide emergency relief to those affected. At the same time, the organization is looking to the future at the potential long-term implications of the conflict and ways it can assist the regional rehabilitation.
"Our main focus right now is meeting the most urgent needs both in Iraq and its neighboring countries," said Matthew Parry, regional associate for the American Red Cross International Services. "It is a joint effort involving all aspects of the International Red Cross Movement, so we are in constant communication with all responding partners."

The humanitarian effort in Iraq is led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is the primary Red Cross agency in times of armed conflict. Meanwhile, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) is coordinating the efforts of responding National Societies, including the American Red Cross, in areas outside of Iraq.

Over recent months, the ICRC has spent more than $10 million building its capacity for an immediate and flexible response to humanitarian needs in Iraq. Actions include pre-positioning sufficient medical supplies to cover the basic health needs of approximately 180,000 affected people and enough food and non-food items for up to 150,000 people displaced in Iraq during the first few months of the emergency.

However, as the conflict gets underway, the number of those affected could rise dramatically. "The number of people who will need assistance is going to depend on the length of the conflict, its intensity and the exact locations that will be most dramatically affected," said Parry.

Appeals Launched for Financial Assistance

Currently estimating that 600,000 refugees and 2 million displaced residents will need assistance, the Federation and ICRC launched appeals on Thursday requesting a combined $160 million in financial support.

"The appeals will be used for both the short-term and medium-term needs for health services, shelter needs, water and sanitation programs and the distribution of food and other relief supplies," explained Parry.

According to initial assessments, one of the most urgent supplies needed is food. On Monday (March 17), the United Nations temporarily halted its "Oil for Food" program, on which 60 percent of Iraq's population was wholly dependent for basic food items.

"The acquisition and distribution of food will be a major issue in the coming weeks, so one of the main concerns of the international relief community right now is re-establishing a country-wide food distribution network," said Parry.

To encourage the attainment of emergency supplies, the American Red Cross made $100,000 contributions to each of the Red Cross appeals, while also donating funds to support relief operations in Jordan and Syria.

The American Red Cross also positioned stocks in both Turkey and Bulgaria for use by the Federation and ICRC as needed. Supplies include 34,200 blankets, 14,500 kitchen sets, 30,000 water containers, 30,000 hygiene parcels, 500 tents and more than 2,000 tarps.

Meanwhile, two delegates from the American Red Cross International Response Team, disaster experts who specialize in treating the most vulnerable, have temporarily been loaned to the Federation to assist the regional relief operation.

"Our support so far is just an initial response," said Malik Jaffer, senior regional associate for the American Red Cross International Services. "We are closely monitoring the situation with all responding agencies to assess the needs as they develop and change."

Part of this assessment includes examining potential participation in long-term regional rehabilitation.

"Our assistance will be provided as needed," said Jaffer. "That could include community health, water and sanitation and food programs, as well as helping build the capacity of the most directly affected national societies."


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