War with Iraq could cause 'substantial humanitarian disaster'

Military action against Iraq could cause a substantial humanitarian disaster, worsening the suffering of millions of civilians whose lives under UN sanctions have already been crippled by food shortages, a lack of clean water and poor sanitation, Tearfund believes.
Tearfund is also concerned that military intervention in Iraq could further destabilise the region and precipitate violence against western targets.

"It is always the poorest people who are the most vulnerable to the trauma and suffering of war - just as they are in natural disasters," says Ian Wallace, Tearfund's International Operations Manager.

After eight years of war with Iran, followed by the Gulf War in 1991, then 12 years of international sanctions Iraq's people are extremely vulnerable. They are ill-equipped to survive additional suffering. This includes children, who make up almost half of Iraqi society, widows, the elderly and the poor. UNICEF1, the United Nations children's fund reports that child mortality rates have risen by 160% under sanctions and that 30% of children are chronically malnourished.

Across Iraq food shortages now affect 16m people, almost three quarters of the population. They are relying on food packages, brought into Iraq under the UN's oil-for-food programme. There is widespread concern among aid agencies that war could disrupt such food supplies, as well as access to local markets.

Diseases, including typhoid, are on the increase in Iraq. Destruction of the infrastructure for electricity, water and sewage would have serious health consequences. Electricity is vital for the proper functioning of civilian services and affects everything from hospitals to water pumping stations and sewage treatment works. Water quality is already poor for many Iraqis and the prime contributory cause of death among children.

Based on 30 years work in the Middle East, both operationally and with local partners, Tearfund is deeply concerned about the repercussions of war in Iraq for regional peace and security. The launching of an attack without clear support of the UN and Muslim opinion-formers, and without clear evidence that such action is necessary, would be certain to outrage public opinion in the Muslim world and would provide fuel to Islamic militants. Tearfund is worried that an attack on Iraq could precipitate a further wave of violence and humanitarian need that spreads much wider than Iraq.

For these reasons Tearfund is anxious that every peaceful avenue to prevent conflict in Iraq be fully and exhaustively explored.

Click here for Tearfund's background briefing paper on Iraq.

For further information, contact Keith Ewing, Media Manager + 44 208 943 7779. Or Sylvie White, Senior Media Officer, +44 208 943 7936.