The UK's leading aid agencies have today called on the Government to ensure that Iraqi civilians are protected from military action and from the humanitarian consequences of conflict. They are deeply concerned about the serious effects of war on an Iraqi population already suffering an acute humanitarian crisis and largely dependent on food aid.
The directors of Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Save the Children and Action Aid remind warring parties, including the UK government, that they have a legal obligation to take all possible precautions to avoid civilian loss of life.
The international community must now ensure the United Nations plays the lead role in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and in reconstruction after hostilities. The UN must also be given the proper resources and backing to enable it to operate effectively in this role.
The agencies are also calling for more UK money to be devoted to preparing for a humanitarian crisis. At the moment, the sums promised are tiny compared with the =A31.75 billion Chancellor Gordon Brown has made available to the MoD for military operations.
A major priority is to ensure the protection of Iraq's vulnerable, civilian population. Another is to ensure impartial humanitarian access to endangered populations, which will be essential for saving lives. Humanitarian agencies must be allowed safe access to all populations in need and must be able to operate independently, led by the UN.
Even before war started, as many as 16 million Iraqis relied on UN food aid.
As a matter of urgency, a new UN Security Council resolution is needed to establish alternative food distribution systems should the current system collapse during the conflict. This will be particularly urgent in the event of prolonged fighting.
In accordance with International Humanitarian Law, civilians and installations essential to the survival of civilians, such as water and sanitation infrastructure, must not be targeted.
The UN is now predicting that up to three million Iraqis may leave their homes but remain within Iraqi borders. The agencies are deeply concerned about the very limited preparedness and provision for these internally displaced people.
According to the UN, an additional 600,000 people may seek refuge beyond Iraq's borders. We remind neighbouring states of their obligations under international law to provide refuge and assistance to those fleeing a conflict in Iraq. International donors - and particularly those countries attacking Iraq - must ensure that states bordering Iraq have the resources to receive refugees.
In Iraq, US and UK military forces are engaged in war, not a peace support operation. It is inappropriate for military forces engaged in a war to take the lead in providing humanitarian relief. This role must be taken on by the UN.
We call on the UK government to ensure that no aid or resources are diverted from humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world in order to meet humanitarian obligations in Iraq. The Department for International Development has promised an initial =A310 million for responding to a crisis caused by military action, but it is understood that this has been found from DfID's existing budget.
Speaking on behalf of the agencies, Dr Daleep Mukarji said: "The warring parties have obligations under international law to avoid civilian casualties and to ensure civilians have safe access to food, shelter, water and medical attention. These obligations must be met.
"Furthermore, we are also calling on the UK Government to massively scale up its funding to the UN, in the hope that a humanitarian disaster can be avoided. "
Signed by the following aid agency directors:
Daleep Mukarji, Christian Aid
Julian Filochowski, CAFOD
Barbara Stocking, Oxfam
Mike Aaronson, Save the Children UK
Salil Shetty, ActionAid
Dominic Nutt Christian Aid 0207 523 2427
or out of hours 07720 467680
Martha Clarke, CAFOD -020 7326 5557 or out of hours on 0777 980 4254.
OXFAM, Amy Barry at Oxfam on 01865, 312254/07980 664 397
Brendan Paddy, SCF UK, 020 7716 2281 out of hours: 07831 650 409
Action Aid, Jane Moyo 0207 561 7614
Notes to editors:
The Department for International Development (DfID) has promised an initial =A310 million to respond to a humanitarian crisis caused by military action, but it appears this is from DfID's existing budget. No new funds have been allocated to DFID by the Treasury, in spite of statements by key UN humanitarian agencies this week that there is a large gap between the money they need for Iraq and the money they have received. The World Food Programme has appealed for $23-25 million for Iraq but has only received $7.5 million, of which the UK has only provided $578,000.