Military action in Iraq will cause humanitarian crisis, says Oxfam

Oxfam International today called on the international community to oppose a war with Iraq on the grounds that it would lead to a massive humanitarian crisis.

(Porto Alegre, 26/Jan/2003) - Speaking at the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre Oxfam International's Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said that assessments made by Oxfam staff indicated an enormously vulnerable civilian population.

'The impact of a war on civilians would simply not be acceptable and we do not believe that those advocating war have understood this. Oxfam demands that governments who are considering war as a positive option explain properly to the public how they are going to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,' Mr Hobbs said.

Oxfam's assessment is that with over 15 million people of Iraq's 22 million people already on World Food Program food rations - a consequence of the last war, over ten years of sanctions, and the policies of the Iraqi government - there are huge risks to millions especially vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.

'One of the major risks is that in using so-called 'surgical' airstrikes - as happened in the last gulf war - there is a grave risk that power stations will be targeted and destroyed. Oxfam knows that if that happened, the Iraqi water and sanitation system, which depends on electricity and which is already in a parlous state, would collapse, leaving millions of people vulnerable to diseases and epidemics.'

Mr Hobbs said that Oxfam is already pre-positioning staff and equipment in the region to address possible internal displacement and even refugee movements of over 1.62 million people. Oxfam is planning up for the possibility of nearly half million of those to go into Iran.

'We expect one consequence would be major political destabilisation in the region. This could be from huge refugee movements but also from the anger that is already evident in many parts of the region, whether in the Middle East or in countries with significant Moslem populations such as India,' Mr Hobbs said.

Oxfam agrees with those governments that believe the only solution is to negotiate through the United Nations.


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