In a phone interview today from Kuwait City, Mercy Corps Information Officer Cassandra Nelson reported that there are growing fears in the region that a conflict in neighboring Iraq is imminent.
"Right now the situation is that people are really starting to brace and prepare for war. The feeling is that it looks like it could be any day now," Nelson said. "There definitely is a sense of nervousness and concern that Kuwait may be one of the initial targets if war does break out."
Nelson said that despite the tensions and heightened security in the country, members of Mercy Corps' Global Emergency Operations (GEO) team were able to successfully make an assessment trip yesterday to an area of the Kuwaiti border with Iraq where humanitarian workers believe displaced families in Iraq may go if a conflict does break out.
"Our team was able to go up to the border areas even despite tight security to identify and assess potential locations for warehouses and to look at water distribution stations," Nelson said. "We were able to find what looks like a viable source for water distribution which is going to be one of the critical items to get into internally displaced persons immediately if this is a war."
Nelson is part of Mercy Corps' region-wide Iraq Emergency Response Team, which is coordinating with international and local partners in Iraq and its neighboring countries. Mercy Corps currently has four international workers in Kuwait and is one of three international relief agencies with staff in the country.
"The presence overall of international NGOs in Kuwait is about six people, which for the magnitude of the crisis that might occur any day now is a frighteningly small number of people to be dealing with the situation," Nelson said.
Nelson said that limited funding and uncertainties are also making it difficult for agencies to prepare for a potential humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
"In terms of working, it is a very difficult environment to work in," said Nelson, who worked with Mercy Corps in Afghanistan before joining the response team in Iraq.