U.S., UN prepare to meet humanitarian needs in Iraq

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Charlene Porter, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Providing humanitarian assistance will be an "immediate objective," if the United States becomes engaged in a military conflict with Iraq, says Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman.

Grossman presented "some views on what the future might look like" after a war in Iraq in congressional testimony February 11, and other U.S. officials the same week outlined a multi-pronged plan for meeting civilian needs in coordination with United Nations agencies and private non-governmental organizations.

Meeting humanitarian needs is one of five key principles guiding senior officials, Grossman said, as they consider the possibility of a conflict with Iraq. "Those who have fled their homes in fear will have to be cared for. Essential supply lines for food, medicine, water and fuel will have to be restored," Grossman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A commitment to help Iraqis in a postwar period is a fundamental element of Defense Department planning, according to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith. He told the Senate panel that an international coalition cannot engage in military action in Iraq "and then leave a mess behind for the Iraqi people to clean up without a helping hand."

Even while these officials discussed postwar humanitarian and reconstruction activity, they also spoke of war in conditional terms -- a possibility, not an inevitability.

In a January 20 directive, President Bush ordered the creation of a postwar planning office, organized within the Defense Department and known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Feith said the office is working to establish relationships with the players who will be involved in a humanitarian and reconstruction effort -- U.N. agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and various expatriate Iraqi groups.

Feith said the group has developed an operational concept that would ease the delivery of aid, create a structure for U.S. forces to coordinate relief, and restart a distribution system for aid using U.S. supplies until the time that international aid arrives on the scene.

Retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner is leading the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Feith said. Garner held a senior military position in the 1991 humanitarian relief operation in northern Iraq.

Grossman said a total of $50 million dollars has been earmarked for the planning process by the United States alone, and other international donors are also responding to a U.N. request for support of humanitarian efforts in Iraq. "As a result, food shelter items and water bladders are ready," Grossman told the Senate panel. "A substantial amount of work has been done on meeting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, and still more is being done by a number of agencies and organizations in Washington, New York and around the world."

The U.N. emergency aid coordinator Kenzo Oshima said in a press briefing February 13 that donors have pledged $30 million to the Iraq preparedness effort in response to a December appeal. The U.N. will be asking donors for another $90 million as aid agencies strive to achieve what was described as a higher level of preparedness.

In shaping their plans, U.N. agencies are assuming that a conflict inIraq would disrupt critical infrastructure and the delivery of basic services and food rations on which 60 percent of the population currently depend, according to World Food Program estimates.

Oshima said up to 10 million people might need food assistance during and immediately after the conflict. U.N. agencies are estimating that 600,000 to 1.45 million people could become refugees, and 2 million people could be internally displaced as they flee their homes in the face of military action.

The relief agencies are working to put stockpiles in place even though many uncertainties about possible needs remain. According to a summary of the Oshima press briefing, the supplies put in place so far include a ten-week food supply for 250,000; hygiene and water supplies for 300,000 people; and emergency health kits for 240,000.

Though relief agencies are relying on a lot of guesswork to determine humanitarian needs in the aftermath of a conflict, certain things are known about existing hardships in Iraq. About 1 million children under the age of five are chronically malnourished, and 5 million Iraqis do not have access to safe water and sanitation, Oshima said.

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