Switzerland: The SDC and the humanitarian effects of the Iraq crisis

Easing the suffering of the weakest with emergency aid

The SDC has been active in Iraq providing humanitarian aid since 1993 and supporting the weakest population groups, primarily children, in collaboration with partner organizations such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. SFr. 5 million has been budgeted for 2003, but greater resources will have to be provided in the event of war.

In the event of war in Iraq, the civilian population would be the most severely affected. While hoping for a peaceful solution to the crisis, the SDC has also been discussing possible humanitarian scenarios. Depending on the intensity and duration of a war, it is assumed that there would be a considerable number of dead and wounded, with internally displaced people and refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. Water, health, electricity, transport and communications infrastructures would be severely damaged. The UN's 1995 "Oil for Food" program which at present provides food for 16 million people, 60% of the population, would certainly be interrupted.

In the event of war, the SDC, which is represented in Iraq by a humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad, sees options for action that will have to be organized in detail, depending on how the situation develops. In the sphere of emergency aid, partner organizations such as the ICRC, UNHCR and WFP would have to be supported financially and/or by experts with the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA). At the beginning of the year, the SDC supported a program of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for the purchase of tents, blankets and non-perishable foodstuffs as a precautionary step. In addition, missions by SHA experts could also be considered, depending on how easy it is to get into the country and on the security situation. Over the past few years, the SDC has committed between SFr. 4 and 5 million annually to humanitarian aid in Iraq on behalf of the weakest population groups, including children. The resources went to partners working in the spheres of basic medical care, water and public hygiene, and vitamin- and protein-enriched foods.

Joachim Ahrens