Right now - Oxfam on Iraq

News and Press Release
Originally published
Oxfam President calls for a clear and effective role for humanitarian agencies in Iraq.
As I write to you, the US government is asking the UN Security Council for authorization to use force against Iraq. I want to share with you, our supporters, Oxfam's concerns and our work in anticipation of a possible war.

As an international humanitarian organization, Oxfam represents the rights and needs of innocent civilians and non-combatants caught up in human conflicts. We remind the world of moral and legal responsibilities to protect human life. These are some of our current concerns:

  • Two-thirds of the Iraqi population depend on a fragile food distribution system that relies on the exchange of oil revenues for imported goods. The destruction of roads and communications will cut millions off from all sources of food.

  • Malnutrition is widespread. Since Gulf War sanctions were imposed in 1990, nearly one quarter of all children suffer from chronic malnutrition. More than one child in ten dies before the age of five (up 160 percent in the last decade).

  • Sixty-five percent of Iraq's urban water is untreated. Half a million tons of sewage flow daily into the Tigris River, the country's main source of water. If bombing destroys the electrical system, sewage will back up into the streets--a cholera epidemic in the making.
In a private meeting with senior leaders from the US State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council, Office of the Vice President, and US Agency for International Development, Oxfam staff asserted important humanitarian principles grounded in international law (especially the Geneva Conventions), insisting on a clear and effective role for humanitarian agencies in Iraq.

Oxfam has begun preparations to provide water and sanitation for possible refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, and Iran. We will have offices in Amman, Jordan and in Syria to oversee relief operations, if needed. Our water and sanitation expert has already conducted a preliminary assessment of Baghdad as a contingency preparation.

Oxfam maintains that unilateral war would be harmful to world peace. Leadership through the United Nations is the very surest way to guarantee a future of diminished rather than heightened international conflict. We will continue to press the Bush administration on the importance of planning and budgeting for humanitarian aid and rehabilitation.

I want to thank our many friends who support our role in this extremely difficult situation. Human rights and international legal agreements must never be sidelined, and we will advocate for them vigorously in the months ahead.

I wish all of us a year and a decade of increasing peace and international cooperation focused on human rights and dignity for every person in every land.


Raymond C. Offenheiser