Open letter to the Prime Minister from Australian Aid Agencies - The humanitarian consequences of a war in Iraq

Dear Prime Minister,
Australia is preparing for a possible war against Iraq. As Australian non-governmental organisations responding globally to human need, we believe there will be significant humanitarian consequences from any military action.

In peace or war, the Iraqi government bears prime responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. But that responsibility is shared. With Iraq's economy undermined by war and sanctions, up to 16 million people -- more than two-thirds of the population - are dependent on a fragile food-rationing system set up by the international community. Authoritative reports indicate that 23% of children in Iraq are already chronically malnourished. Any military action targeting Iraq's ports and roads would cause serious disruption to the food-distribution system.

A number of reports by the United Nations and by aid agencies working in Iraq confirm that the water and sanitation systems are in a parlous and vulnerable state. Clean water supplies, as well as the sewage system, depend on electricity. If power lines and power stations are targeted, sewage will not be pumped away and clean water will not be available. Inevitably, disease will sweep through a population whose child-mortality rates have already more than doubled in the last decade. Over 70% of current child deaths in Iraq are caused by diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases.

Iraq's people are already enduring a humanitarian crisis. Their extreme vulnerability, particularly among children and women, should be given full weight in the deliberations of the Australian Government in the coming days and weeks.

The undersigned organisations urge you to commit the Australian Government to support and pursue all possible actions to bring about a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the situation in Iraq through the auspices of the United Nations, including efforts to support an improvement in the lives of civilians in Iraq.

Yours sincerely,

Gaye Hart, AM, President, Australian Council for Overseas Aid
Lynn Arnold, World Vision Australia
Steve Bradbury, TEAR Australia
Tas Bull, Union Aid Australia - APHEDA
Jack de Groot, Caritas Australia
Caesar D'Mello, National Council of Churches
Margaret Douglas, Save the Children Australia
Dimity Fifer, Australian Volunteers International
Les Fussell, Baptist World Aid Australia
Andrew Hewett, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad
Eric Leach, Every Home for Christ
Colin Lennox, Oz Green
Paul Mitchell, CARE Australia
Ron Nissen, SM, Marist Mission Centre, Australia
Helen Nolen, Mercy Works
David Purnell, United Nations Association of Aust.
Roberto Rojas-Morales, Family Planning Australia
Veronica Ross, CCF Australia
Jackie Perkins, Quaker Service Australia
Peter Schirmer, Aust. Lutheran World Service
David Skeat, Aust. Relief & Mercy Services
Geoff Smith, Anglican Board of Mission
Michael G. Smith, AUSTCARE (Australians Caring for Refugees)
Beverly Snell, Community Development & Health Group
Russell Thirgood, Amnesty International
Australia Greg Thompson, AngliCORD
Michael Thomson, Aust. Aid for Cambodia Fund
Mike Toole, Burnet Institute
Christine Vincent, RedR
Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Ian Wishart, PLAN Australia

For further information on the humanitarian impact of a war in Iraq please refer to the website of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid at