"The world is on the brink of a major humanitarian catastrophe if war is declared against Iraq within the next few days," said Duncan MacLaren, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 154 Catholic relief, development and social service organisations working in 198 countries and territories, including all the Security Council country members and Iraq, where the organisation is indigenous.
He continued, "The victims will be in the first instance the most vulnerable, especially the children of Iraq. War will also have devastating consequences on refugee flows to neighbouring countries and could start a domino effect for conflict stretching from the Middle East into the backyards of people in Europe and the United States. Even at this eleventh hour, the politicians of the world can, following the Pope's advice, 'say no to war'."
It is reported that a "shock to the Iraqi system" will be delivered in the first 48 hours of a military attack, with 3,000 "precision-guided" bombs and missiles. No one knows exactly how many innocent civilians would be killed in such an attack. Humanitarian organisations, including Caritas Iraq, talk about tens of thousands. However, it is not only a question of numbers. The damage done by weapons of war is to the flesh, muscle, bone, and psyches of real people, some of them children.
The people of Iraq are already in sorrowful shape. Between 14 and 16 million persons (two thirds of the population) are entirely dependent on food rations. As previously explained by Caritas Internationalis, the economic embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council twelve years ago is largely responsible for this situation.
In the event of a conflict, and the inevitable destruction of communication and transport infrastructure, the whole system would be paralysed within a few hours. Likewise, water and sewage systems would quickly deteriorate due to a lack of electricity, and polluted water could cause major outbreaks of disease and lead to epidemics. In addition, Caritas and United Nations agencies estimate a war would create hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Members of Caritas Internationalis throughout the world have been lobbying their politicians and demonstrating in favour of a peaceful solution. They join millions of other people of all races, ages, and religions who want decision-makers to step back from the brink of a war, which would bring new anger and hatred in its wake.
Pope John Paul II considers war "a defeat for humanity". An attack on Iraq would also be a recipe for a humanitarian disaster on a huge scale.
Francesca Frezza (email@example.com)
Jane Kronner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Caritas Internationalis Communication Department