U.S. has begun planning for Iraqi humanitarian relief

News and Press Release
Originally published
While no formal decision has been made by President Bush to use military action in Iraq, officials at the Defense and State departments, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other agencies have been engaged for the past five months in planning for humanitarian relief and reconstruction should a military conflict happen, says a senior U.S. Defense Department official.

A current assessment of Iraq indicates that the country "is in poor shape," which "is in itself an indictment of Saddam [Hussein]'s regime. We can see, as we look down the numbers, a sharp dip in income, declining life expectancy, and a drastic increase in infant mortality," Joe Collins, deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, said February 25 at a Pentagon briefing on humanitarian relief planning for Iraq.

Iraq is very dependent on the oil-for-food program to feed its people, he said. "Iraq grows very little of its own food. Most of the people in Iraq get their food through the U.N. offices, and the ministries, in fact, control the oil-for-food program," he said.

He also noted that there are already a large number of displaced people in Iraq, roughly 1.5 million in and around Iraq.

"In the event of conflict, the U.S. government is devoting unprecedented attention to humanitarian relief and the prevention of excessive damage to infrastructure and to unnecessary casualties," Collins said. "However, what happens in this war to a large degree will ... depend on what Saddam Hussein does."

Collins said the Pentagon believes a potential military conflict would have three broad impacts on the Iraqi people.

"First, it would increase displacement of populations, mostly toward the borders," he said. "It would interrupt the oil-for-food program. And it would, to some degree, disrupt electrical supply, which in turn could have an effect on water and health services."

In the event of war, Collins said most U.N. relief agencies and many of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would evacuate their personnel. "All of these things together place significant demands on those people who are engaged in humanitarian relief," he said. Another factor, he said, is the impact of Saddam Hussein and his regime on any efforts at providing humanitarian relief, considering his past history.

Several key principles are guiding U.S. government humanitarian relief planning, he said. The Pentagon will attempt to minimize displacement, damage, and disruption of services using three methods. First, military planners are engaging in careful targeting of weapons systems to ensure a minimum amount of damage, he said.

"Secondly, we're engaged in what we call humanitarian mapping, where we are acquiring the information to ensure that our combat forces know where the enemy is and where NGO international facilities and other facilities that have a humanitarian impact are," he said. "Thirdly, we are engaged in detailed cooperation with the international organizations and the non-governmental organizations."

Collins noted that those responsible for providing most of the humanitarian relief are the United Nations and NGOs. "Our job is not to supplant the NGOs and the international organizations; our job is to get them back to work as soon as possible," he said.

Collins said the military's goal is to limit human suffering, which will be accomplished by creating humanitarian space, facilitating U.N. and NGO operations, providing relief as forces advance, using civilian disaster assistance response teams (DART), and establishing civil-military operations centers.

"We will assist with ... U.S. government relief supplies initially, and then by funding the U.N. and NGOs," Collins said.

Collins emphasized that the Defense Department is not the lead agency for humanitarian relief. "We recognize the unparalleled expertise of the NGOs and the United Nations, and thus, we will continue in our efforts to get them back on the job as soon as possible after the war ends and continue our extensive outreach," he said.

Finally, Collins said the United States, along with NGOs, has begun stockpiling humanitarian supplies for any potential conflict in Iraq.

"The U.S. government is stockpiling relief supplies for up to a million people; that's non-food," he said. "On the food end, DOD has brought with it three million humanitarian daily rations; they're located in Kuwait and other countries. We've also made grants to the World Food Program so they can begin to bring in other kinds of food."

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: