Statement on Iraq by CARE International Secretary General Denis Caillaux

News and Press Release
Originally published
CARE International began humanitarian operations in Iraq in 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf War, and has been one of the very few humanitarian organizations to maintain a continuous presence in the center and south of the country since that time, assisting vulnerable Iraqis in the areas of water, sanitation, education and health.
At this time of danger for Iraq and the international community, CARE advocates strenuously for a peaceful diplomatic solution to the current crisis and seeks to draw attention to the ongoing plight of ordinary Iraqis and to what we think will be the consequences of a further escalation of the crisis into all-out conflict. CARE believes these consequences have the potential to be grave indeed, particularly given the already vulnerable condition of the Iraqi people.

For there is already a humanitarian crisis ongoing in Iraq. The past twelve years have left the Iraqi people impoverished, vulnerable and dependent on monthly government food rations supplied under the UN's "oil-for-food" program. Although official statistics are not readily available, anecdotal evidence and CARE's own first-hand experience indicate a decline of truly startling proportions in the welfare of young children, nursing mothers and other vulnerable groups. Even now, it is thought that up to 23% of children under five years old are chronically malnourished, while an average Iraqi child suffers 14 bouts of diahorrea a year. CARE believes that another war in Iraq could be potentially disastrous for such an exposed population.

Specifically, CARE has concerns on four humanitarian counts:

a) Most obviously, CARE fears for the lives of ordinary Iraqi people in the event of war. Although it's impossible to foresee with any confidence, the UN estimates civilian casualties could be very high indeed, with up to 50% being fatalities. Hospitals and clinics, already functioning precariously, clearly would be overwhelmed.

b) CARE believes that war in Iraq would have the potential to significantly disrupt the oil-for-food ration distribution system, which would have major humanitarian consequences. It is estimated that up to 70% of Iraqis depend to some extent on these food rations, while 40% are thought to have no other source of food. Even though a two-month ration has recently been issued, the UN nevertheless estimates in the event of war that up to 3 million people could be in need of emergency feeding, of which 2 million would be children.

c) Based upon its daily program interventions over the past 10 years CARE believes that war in Iraq has the potential to unleash an urban public health disaster. Most urban Iraqi people obtain their water from a tap, not a well. In the event that electricity supplies are seriously disrupted, most urban water supply and sewage systems would cease to function. The population would be forced to resort to drinking water from hand-dug wells and open water courses, many of which would have become contaminated with untreated sewage.

d) In addition to our concerns about the majority of the Iraqi population trapped in situ - those with no means to flee - CARE fears further humanitarian suffering as a result of possible massive population displacement at the onset of war, potentially of the scale seen during the exodus from Kosovo in 1998.

These are serious concerns based on a first-hand knowledge of the situation in Iraq, and CARE urges all actors in the crisis to acknowledge them. We argue strongly for access by humanitarian agencies to be maintained during and after any future military action in Iraq. Assistance provided through such access should always be under civilian control and the coordination of the UN, and clearly separate from military operations and command structures.

Finally, CARE emphasizes that if, in the event of war, circumstances do not allow access by humanitarian agencies, then international humanitarian law will require the warring parties themselves to attend to the needs of civilians. Of late, the international community has been all but silent about need for this kind of preparedness.