23 August 2007 Edition
International : Iraq suffering major humanitarian crisis
HELL ON EARTH
BY SALLY GALLAGHER
On 10 April 2003, just three weeks before US forces illegally invaded Iraq, George W Bush made this promise to the people he was about to bomb: “Coalition forces (Azerbaijan, Modova, Tonga etc) will help maintain law and order, so that Iraqis can live in security. We will respect your great religious traditions, whose principles of equality and compassion are essential to Iraq’s future. We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave. Iraq will go forward as a unified, independent and sovereign nation that has regained a respected place in the world.”
Bounteous George wasn’t finished there, he had more good news for the citizens of free Iraq.
“The United States and its coalition partners (Thailand, El Salvador, Lativa etc) respect the people of Iraq. We are taking unprecedented measures to spare the lives of innocent Iraqi citizens, and to deliver food, water and medicine to those in need. And all the people who make up your country – Kurds, Shi’a, Turkomans, Sunnis, and others – will be free of the terrible persecution that so many have endured.”
Four years later and Iraq is a slaughterhouse spiralling downwards into chaotic self-destruction. Not even the rarefied atmosphere of the heavily-fortified Green Zone has been spared. There is no government to speak of, certainly none that can act without the say so of the US, no government structures capable of delivering even basic water and electricity supplies to peoples’ homes. Kurds, Shi’a, Turkomans and Sunnis are now divided amongst themselves, victims of sectarian violence and of the occupiers. This is not how it was supposed to be. This is not what visionary George foresaw.
Eight million dependent on aid
The Iraqi people have lost out, in every respect. It is not only the daily violence and the indignity of life under occupation but the horrible underlying reality that is being obscured by the violence: leading aid agencies now estimate that one in three Iraqis – at least eight million people – are now dependent on emergency, humanitarian aid.
The shocking findings about the reality of life in Iraq are contained in a report compiled by Oxfam and Iraqi agencies.
Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge reveals that some four million Iraqis – some 15 percent of the population – cannot afford to buy sufficient food to eat and some 28 percent of all children are malnourished. That figure stood at 19 percent before the invasion. A full 70 percent have no proper access to safe water, compared to 50 percent of the population without access, in 2003, whilst UN sanctions were in place. In addition, the climate of fear engendered by the invasion has severely obstructed children’s ability to attend school and Iraq is now reporting that 92 percent of all children suffer learning problems. And of course the refugee crisis is one of the worst in modern times, with some two million Iraqis having fled the country. A further two million have been displaced within the country. Indeed, at least two thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homes every day to escape the poverty and violence.
It is the greatest mass exodus of people ever in the Middle East and dwarfs anything seen in Europe since the Second World War. But you’d be hard-pressed to read much about that in the papers, or hear the great debates at the UN on this modern-day, thoroughly man-made disaster.
Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International said that the report clearly showed that the invasion has compounded the disastrous situation that had arisen as a result of 10 years of sanctions.
“Basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Millions have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty.”
Hobbs said more could be done to alleviate the suffering.
“The Iraqi government must commit to helping Iraq’s poorest citizens, including the internally displaced, by extending food parcel distribution and cash payments to the vulnerable. Western donors must work through Iraqi and international aid organisations and develop more flexible systems to ensure these organisations operate effectively and efficiently.”
Oxfam itself has been forced to take its own staff out of Iraq, due to the chronic security problems, instead supporting those domestic and (some) international agencies that continue to be able to operate in Iraq.
Many humanitarian organisations will not accept money from governments that have troops in Iraq, as this could jeopardise their own security and independence. Therefore the report urges international donor governments that have not sent troops to Iraq to provide increased emergency funding for humanitarian action.
The UNHCR – the UN body charged with looking after refugees – is having difficulty raising €73 million for relief. The organisation says the two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees – Syria and Jordan – have still received “next to nothing from the world community”.
Some 1.4 million Iraqis have fled to Syria according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, Jordan has taken in 750,000 while Egypt and Lebanon have seen 200,000 Iraqis cross into their territories.
Potential donors are reluctant to spent money inside Iraq arguing the country has large oil revenues. They are either unaware, or are ignoring the fact that the Iraqi administration has all but collapsed. The US is spending $2bn a week on military operations, according to the Congressional Research Service but many Iraqis are dying because they lack drinking water that costs just a few cents