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Anti-war Documents Menu / Archived Documents Menu / humanitarian situation


This page was archived on 13 August 2003

The Humanitarian Situation in Iraq and Post-war issues

Some current news articles
Background to the humanitarian situation in Iraq
Reports (pre-war) on the possible humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq

Latest ARROW briefings
Voices briefing - 10 Demands (7 May 2003)
+ campaigning postcards
Voices briefing - Profit and Loss (1 May 2003)
- the humanitarian crisis in Iraq
Hearts and Minds: Aid and reconstruction in Iraq (16 April 2003)
- a CASI briefing
Iraq Responsibilities of the occupying powers (16 April 2003)
- Amnesty International
Voices in the Wilderness briefing on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq (11 April)
Humanitarian Principles and the Conflict in Iraq - a useful briefing paper from the Overseas Development Institute covering humanitarian priciple, legal obligations, and particular challenges.

Some current news articles
Iraq: Struggle to restore basic services - 15 May 2003
Disease outbreak reported: Cholera in Iraq
- Update from WHO - 14 May 2003
Iraq survey finds slide in child health
- 14 May 2003
Voices in the Wilderness call to end sanctions and occupation
- 10 May 2003
US military in Baghdad bans American peace campaigners from Palestine Hotel press centre after revelations of humanitarian planning failure-
18 April 2003
Bomb before you buy: What is being planned in Iraq is not reconstruction but robbery - Naomi Klein - 14 Apr 03

Three weeks on, and still no water. Now doctors fear an epidemic - The Guardian - 14 Apr 03
Iraq: Latest news from International Committee of the Red Cross staff in the field - 13 Apr 03
As looting continues, US hires controversial company to police - 13 Apr 03
Iraq: Looting, lawlessness and humanitarian consequences - Amnesty International - 11 Apr 03
Iraq: Civilians under fire - Amnesty International - 8 Apr 03
Conditions 'terrible' in Baghdad hospital - Red Cross - 7 Apr 03
UN aid agencies paint grim picture of massive relief tasks in Iraq - 7 Apr 03
Millions of mines will litter Iraq, expert says - 7 Apr 03
UNEP Recommends Studies of Depleted Uranium in Iraq - 6 Apr 03
Viewpoint: 'The West does not understand Iraqis' - 3 Apr 03

United Nations Population Fund warns of risks of war to pregnant women - 21 Mar 03

Iraq: Struggle to restore basic services
UN OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network, 15 May 2003


BAGHDAD, 15 May (IRIN) - More than a month after war's end, hundreds of thousands of Baghdad residents are still struggling to survive without basic services. Electricity remains intermittent, clean drinking water is unavailable to large numbers of people, and authorities are barely coping with sewage disposal.

In the Baghdad suburb of Adamiya, the director of electric power distribution, Muthanna al-Ubaydi, said the 30,000 people in his sector were now receiving only about six hours of electricity a day. For two weeks in April there had been no power at all.

See full article

Disease outbreak reported: Cholera in Iraq - Update 2
World Health Organisation - 14 May 2003

The national public health laboratory in Kuwait has confirmed the presence of vibrio cholerae, the bacterium which causes cholera, in 4 out of the 38 samples which the World Health Organization (WHO) team in Basra collected last week. (see previous report )

Another 18 cases have been clinically and laboratory confirmed from three hospitals in Basra. WHO warned the national and international health community as soon as cholera was first identified by hospital staff in Basra last week in order to put in place immediate containment measures.

See full article

Iraq survey finds slide in child health
UNICEF Finds That Acute Malnutrition Has Doubled in Past Year - 14 May

Two months after the start of the Iraq war, UNICEF has called for urgent action to halt what it believes is the plummeting nutritional status of Iraqi children.

UNICEF today released troubling findings from a rapid nutrition assessment undertaken in Baghdad, which has found that acute malnutrition rates in children under five have nearly doubled since a previous survey in February 2002.

"We can assume that the situation is as bad if not much worse in other urban centres throughout Iraq," said the UNICEF Representative in Iraq, Carel De Rooy. "We knew going into the war that Iraqi children were poorly nourished. These findings make clear that not enough is being done to turn the situation around. Instead it has gotten worse."

The UNICEF rapid nutrition assessment was confined to Baghdad because of general insecurity throughout the country. Nevertheless, it shows that 7.7 per cent of children under age five are suffering from acute malnutrition, compared with last year's figure of 4 per cent. Acute malnutrition signifies that a child is actually wasting away.

See full article

Voices in the Wilderness call to end sanctions and occupation - 10 May 2003

Today the U.S. presents to the UN its resolution, calling for a lifting of sanctions and further the appropriation and authority of Iraqi oil sales to be dictated solely by the US and UK. To our dismay, and to further devastation for Iraqi people, their struggle to regain control of their resources and right to live in peace is once again dictated by a power that does not represent them.

See full article

Bomb before you buy - What is being planned in Iraq is not reconstruction but robbery
Naomi Klein in The Guardian - April 14, 2003

On April 6, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz spelled it out: there will be no role for the UN in setting up an interim government in Iraq. The US-run regime will last at least six months, "probably longer than that". And by the time the Iraqi people have a say in choosing a government, the key economic decisions about their country's future will have been made by their occupiers. "There has to be an effective administration from day one," Wolfowitz said. "People need water and food and medicine, and the sewers have to work, the electricity has to work. And that's coalition responsibility."

The process of how they will get all this infrastructure to work is usually called "reconstruction". But American plans for Iraq's future economy go well beyond that. Rather than rebuilding, the country is being treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neo-liberals can design their dream economy: fully privatised, foreign-owned and open for business.

See full article

Three weeks on, and still no water. Now doctors fear an epidemic Lack of security holds up agencies
by Ewen MacAskill in Basra
The Guardian Monday April 14, 2003

Doctors in Iraq's second city, Basra, warned yesterday of an epidemic as a majority of the 1.3 million residents were still without safe drinking water three weeks after the war began. Attempts to restore the supply have failed, despite hopes expressed in the first week that it would take a matter of days.

Help from aid agencies is only trickling in. Tamara al-Rifai, the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Kuwait, said looting was partly to blame. Lack of security was making it difficult for aid agencies to enter the town, and looters had taken pipes before they could be installed to help distribution. "The fact that we have gone a few steps back makes it even more serious," she said. Uday Abdul Bakri, general surgeon at the 600-bed Basra general hospital, said the hospital was dealing with many diarrhoea cases and the risk of water-acquired diseases, such as cholera and dysentery, was high. "I think there will be an epidemic," he said. The shortage of drinking water is a problem across southern Iraq.

There is huge resentment in Basra against the British forces because of the lack of water and electricity. Residents also blame them for failing to control the looters. One resident in the centre of Basra said: "Bush bad. Blair bad. They destroyed our water and electricity." Another, Axad Toblanid, 50, an engineer, said: "We are unhappy with this freedom. We have no water. We have complained to the British army about this but they are not doing anything. "It is not safe. The British army say, 'we are not policemen.' It is the rule of international law that any town where the army is in control must protect us, but they don't."

See full article

Iraq: Latest news from International Committee of the Red Cross staff in the field
13 Apr 2003


BAGHDAD (12 April)
The security situation in the Iraqi capital is still volatile, with some areas safer than others. Extreme caution is required when moving around. Curfew has been imposed from dusk to dawn.

The widespread looting of public premises and especially of medical facilities and water supply systems is having an increasing impact on health care. The consequences of acts of vandalism are becoming more and more visible. There are few health professionals left in most hospitals visited so far. Key utilities (generators, AC units, medical equipment, etc.) and other medical or technical equipment that are so vital for these hospitals to resume work are lacking.

Yarmouk Hospital, on the outskirts of Al Mansour district, is typical of the critical situation facing hospitals in Baghdad: it was hit directly by shells during the conflict and the third floor is totally destroyed. A few surgeons spent the last days and nights of the war inside the building. Corpses were piled in the entrance hall before being buried in the hospital grounds. Courageous doctors and staff managed to salvage half of the equipment while looters were carrying off furniture. Although the staff present are clearly committed to saving their hospital and getting it back to work, this will be possible only when a minimum of security is guaranteed.

See full article

As looting continues, US hires controversial company to police
Arjan El Fassed, Electronic Iraq
13 April 2003

Electronic Iraq rounds up recent coverage about the hiring of controversial company Dyncorp with a multi-million-dollar contract to police post-Saddam Iraq and looks into the history of human rights abuses in the company.

See full article

Iraq: Looting, lawlessness and humanitarian consequences
Amnesty International 11 April 2003

Widespread looting and arson. Lawlessness and reprisal attacks. Water shortages and power cuts. Overwhelmed and ransacked hospitals. Disorder hampering humanitarian relief agencies. This is the grim reality facing millions of Iraqi civilians in areas newly under the control of US/UK forces. As one Iraqi told a BBC reporter on 10 April, "No authority now. No law now. No anything. Thieves anywhere."

US and UK authorities were repeatedly warned before the conflict by Amnesty International and others that there was a grave risk of widespread disorder, humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses, including revenge attacks, once the Iraqi government's authority was removed. Now that US/UK forces are occupying substantial parts of Iraq, they must live up to their specific responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the rights of Iraqi people.

Referring to the scenes of looting, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan is reported to have said: "Obviously law and order must be a major concern ... I think the (Security) Council has also reaffirmed that the Hague Regulation and the Geneva Conventions [on the duties of occupying powers] apply to this conflict and that the coalition has the responsibility for the welfare of the people in this area. And I am sure that will be respected".

Amnesty International calls on the occupying forces to:

- take urgent measures to enforce law and order in areas under their control, specifically by preventing acts of pillage, destruction and violence to people;

- ensure the provision of food, water and medical supplies to people living in areas under their control;

- maintain medical and hospital services, public health and hygiene.

See full article

Iraq: Civilians under fire
08 April 2003
, Amnesty International

Amnesty International (AI) is deeply concerned about the mounting toll of civilian casualties in Iraq and the reported use of cluster bombs by US forces in heavily populated areas. Despite repeated assurances from US and UK authorities that they would do everything possible to protect the Iraqi people, since 20 March hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed. Some have been victims of cluster bombs; some have died in attacks in disputed circumstances. AI urges all the warring parties to make the safety of Iraqi civilians a top priority.

In particular, AI calls for:

- an immediate moratorium on the use of cluster bombs by US/UK forces and on other inherently indiscriminate weapons;
- an immediate end to unlawful tactics by Iraqi forces that endanger civilians;
- prompt and impartial investigations into civilian deaths, and the use of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to investigate incidents of alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The scenes at al-Hilla's hospital on 1 April showed that something terrible had happened. The bodies of the men, women and children -- both dead and alive -- brought to the hospital were punctured with shards of shrapnel from cluster bombs. Videotape of the victims was judged by Reuters and Associated Press editors as being too awful to show on television. Independent newspaper journalists reported that the pictures showed babies cut in half and children with their limbs blown off. Two lorry-loads of bodies, including women in flowered dresses, were seen outside the hospital.

See the full text of this report.

Conditions 'terrible' in Baghdad hospital - Red Cross
07 Apr 2003 16:13:00 GMT
By Samia Nakhoul

ICRC Spokesman Roland Huguenin-Benjamin told Reuters: "Surgeons have been working round the clock for the past two days and most are exhausted. Conditions are terrible.

"You could hear very close range explosions. The windows are rattling from the thud of explosions. We saw a lot of ambulances and private cars, bringing in casualties."

Doctors at Kindi said the hospital had taken in four dead and 176 wounded in the last 24 hours. The picture was similar at Kadhimiya hospital in the north of the city, where doctors told Reuters correspondent Hassan Hafidh that 18 dead and 141 wounded had been brought in since Sunday.

Many patients said they were wounded by bombing as they tried to flee northwards by car on the road to the city of Mosul. One woman said she lost her parents and five siblings.

"If the others have as many (casualties as Kindi), it is problematic. Tomorrow, we will try to go to others," Huguenin-Benjamin said. He said hospitals were now relying on generators and that getting clean water to patients was a priority.

Power outages in many parts of Baghdad in recent days had compounded health concerns because they cut electricity to hospitals and water treatment plants.

On Sunday, grids feeding Baghdad were mostly not working and less than 20 percent of households were receiving limited power during the night, the ICRC said in its latest report on Iraq.

See full article

UN aid agencies paint grim picture of massive relief tasks in Iraq
United Nations 7 April 2003

Painting a grim picture of hardship and horror, United Nations relief agencies today underscored the massive humanitarian tasks awaiting them in war-shattered Iraq.
WHO was also extremely concerned about the psychological impact of conflict, fear, and the loss of family members or neighbours on Iraqi children, Ms. Chaib said. The physical and psychological damage of conflict could take years to heal, and are likely to leave many permanent scars.
But Ms. Belmonte warned: "With each passing day, as the conflict continues, a humanitarian clock is ticking - it's a question of access, it's a question of distribution, it's a question of time, and it's a question of the lives of Iraqi children.

See full article

United Nations Population Fund warns of risks of war to pregnant women

Staff from the United Natians Population Fund have reported that many women in the past couple of months have had the birth of their babies induced because they fear the impact of the war on the health of themselves and their babies. Women who are as little as 7 months pregnant have been having cesarean sections. However, there has been little special care available in hospitals and women have taken their babies home as they have been afraid to leave them in the hospitals.

There are about one million pregnant women in Iraq. The lack of electricity and water in hospitals and the chaos in hospitals now makes the risky process of childbirth infinately more difficult. Increasing miscarriages and early labour are being reported.

See full article - United Nations Population Fund warns of risks of war to pregnant women (21 March 2003) and listen to an interview with UNFPR spokeswoman on Woman's Hour (8 April 2003)

Millions of mines will litter Iraq, expert says
07 Apr 2003 14:22:40 GMT
By Rachel Sanderson ROME, April 7 (Reuters)

The plight of Iraq would be more comparable to Cambodia, where nearly half of villages are still either known or suspected to be littered with mines or unexploded bombs more than 20 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.

"It will take five to 10 years to clear the high priority areas in Iraq...for people to be able to move about freely and to engage in the main economic activities,"


Landmining by U.S.-led forces could not be ruled out. He said some 90,000 mines have been shipped to the Gulf area but added that there was no evidence so far that they had been planted.

"The United States has not produced an uproar (about the use of landmines) because it reserves the right to use anti-personnel mines in this conflict," he said.

Unexploded ordnance used by U.S. and British forces, in particular from cluster bombs, would also leave behind dangers for Iraqi civilians and aid workers.

And civilians maimed by a landmines were unlikely to receive much relief with poor healthcare services and a shortage those qualified to make prosthetic limbs, Goose said.

See full article

UNEP Recommends Studies of Depleted Uranium in Iraq

6 April 2003

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is recommending that a scientific assessment of sites targeted with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) be conducted in Iraq as soon as conditions permit.

“Although our assessments to date, under conditions prevailing in the Balkans, have concluded that DU contamination does not pose any immediate risks to human health or the environment, the fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public,” said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

Mr Toepfer added that UNEP stands ready to conduct early environmental field studies in Iraq: “Given the overall environmental concerns during the conflict, and the fact that the environment of Iraq was already a cause for serious concern prior to the current war, UNEP believes early field studies should be carried out. This is especially important to protect human health in a post-conflict situation”.

See full article
See Key issues for UN uranium testing in Iraq by Dai Williams (10 April 2003) - a response to UNEP.
See Pandora Depleted Uranium Research Project

Viewpoint: 'The West does not understand Iraqis'
Haifa Zangana, BBC On-line, 3 April 2003.

The Americans are hated across the Middle East, and it seems there can be no redemption whatever they do.

But for the British Government and people it is totally different. There have always been bridges, cultural and economic, between medical associations and schools.

This love-hate relationship goes back to colonial times, so there is the basis for a better relationship.

But this war, the bombardment of Baghdad and the siege of Basra, this is no way to win hearts and minds - not by killing Iraqis.

Little understanding
I think the coverage of the war is highly inadequate and shows how little journalists and pundits understand Iraq and the Iraqis.

Look at Baghdad, for example. It is seen as the stronghold of the regime and a Sunni Iraqi power base. But this is a more than 1,000-year-old city that is as cosmopolitan as London.

By bombing Baghdad, you are bombing all kinds of Iraqi people. If you bombed the millions of people in London, from all their different religions and backgrounds, you would be hitting all kinds of people. They cannot be separated in Iraq as much as they could in London.

See full article


News sources
r updates from a variety of NGOs and aid agencies on the humanitarian situation in Iraq view ReliefWeb and UN Humanitarian Information Centre for Iraq

Also see: Electronic Iraq; Iraq Indymedia; Reuters Alert; Amnesty International - Crisis in Iraq section; Iraq Journal

For an independent assessment of the numbers of civilian casualties, click here.

Reports direct from Iraq

Iraq Peace Team
Jo Wilding
Robert Fisk

Iraq Indymedia

Read the up-to-date Iraq Diaries from the Iraq Peace Team

Excerpt from the Iraq Peace Team Eyewitness report, March 27th-April 3rd

IPT, including Dr. April Hurley, visited with the Director of the Al Kindi Hospital, Dr. Osama Saaleh.

Dr. Saaleh reported that on March 31st his hospital had received 45 casualties, including seven who were dead on arrival, from two bombings -- one in the Al Ameen district and the other in the Al Dhahliyeh district, both on the periphery of Baghdad.

The staff provided photos of an incident on March 30th at about 6 AM in the district of Zaafraniyeh in which two closely related families in four homes were reportedly bombed, the Shurta houses near the old Diala bridge. There was only one survivor of the incident, Ali Ismayal, 12. Fifteen of the other 16 people who died were: Sabah Gedan Karbeet, 42, male; Husham Sabah Eadan, 10, male; Malek Sabah Eadan, 7, male; Ali Sabah Eadan, 4, male; Madeeha Abd Kathem, 48, female; Sabeha Awad Merdas, 58, female; Fatema Zaboon Maktoof, 27, female; Nora Sabah Gadan, 14, female; Esmaeel Abbas Hamza, 49, male; Muhammed Taha Abbas, 12, male; Abeer Taha Abbas, 9 female; Muna Taha Abbas, 23, female; Abbas Esmaeel Abbas, 7, male; Azhar Ali Taher, 33, female; and, Kameela Abd Kathem, 49, female.

Ali's aunt, Jamela Abbas, the only surviving relative of the relatives who wasn't at the home at the time of the bombing, confirmed reports from the hospital staff that Ali sustained third-degree burns on 35 percent of his body and charring of both arms, which required amputation near the shoulders. He also had pulmonary injury from smoke inhalation. Extensive skin grafting and multiple plastic surgeries will be necessary. Her address is Zaafraniyeh, District 50, Street 23, House 8.

Read reports from Jo Wilding who was in Iraq until the beginning of April 2003.

Excerpt from War and grief 09 April 2003

This war has been a disaster for the Iraqi people. Civilian casualties have occurred in numbers and ways that were unnecessary. Cluster bombs have been used, though they are illegal. Anti-personnel fragmentation bombs have been fired in residential areas. Bombs have hit streets, markets, and farms in circumstances that do not always appear to be accidental.

Nicolas de Torrente, the executive director of Medicins Sans Frontieres USA, today testified to the Security Council that "In Iraq...the conflict is essentially being carried out in a vacuum. The political agendas and military strategies of the warring parties have resulted in nearly completely shutting out independent humanitarian assistance" (see www.msf.org).

But all wars are disastrous for all people. It is not this war but all wars, which are wrong. The idea that, in the face of humankind's great problems, the solution is to send out young people to kill one another, is outdated and ridiculous. In all wars, the majority of casualties are civilians. Some suggest that, if Saddam was killing people and now he is gone, the net result will be fewer lives lost. But that comparison is meaningless. I cannot accept that we can develop weapons that can be guided from space, fired from ships offshore hundreds of miles away, and we couldn't, if we thought about it, come up with more effective means of conflict resolution.

Read the collected articles of Robert Fisk

08 April 2003
Amid Allied jubilation, a child lies in agony, clothes soaked in blood They lay in lines, the car salesman who'd just lost his eye but whose feet were still dribbling blood, the motorcyclist who was shot by American troops near the Rashid Hotel, the 50-year-old female civil servant, her long dark hair spread over the towel she was lying on, her face, breasts, thighs, arms and feet pock-marked with shrapnel from an American cluster bomb. For the civilians of Baghdad, this is the real, immoral face of war, the direct result of America's clever little "probing missions" into Baghdad. ....


Write to your MP, Geoff Hoon (Secretary of State for Defence), Jack Straw (Foreign Secretary) and of course, Tony Blair. For a list of demands see here.


Background to the humanitarian situation
During the last Gulf War much of the public infrastructure of Iraq was destroyed. 12 years of economic sanctions has left the country unable to adequately repair and maintain intastructure and plunged most of its people into poverty. As a result the Iraqi population are in a very vulnerable position. In particular, damage to the electricity system, a sector which the Ministry of Defence has said may be a target for military action, would have a devastating knock-on effect. Many public services, such as water and sanitation and health systems rely on electricity. The further breakdown of these already fragile systems could cause widespread disease and death. The disruption of food distribution is a major concern.

Killer Facts
from the Voices newsletter, Feb 2003

The Independent (8 Jan. 2003, p. 4):
'Preparations for a humanitarian crisis in Iraq are woefully inadequate despite official estimates that two million civilians would be left homeless by a military strike, aid officials say.

'A confidential report drawn up by the United Nations estimates that an American-led invasion would, in addition to those left homeless, put up to 10 million civilians at risk of disease and hunger.

'The impact of an invasion would probably be worse than that of the 1991 Gulf War, the report says, because oil production would be halted, electricity cut and the distribution of UN-supplied food severely disrupted.

"The bulk of the population is now totally dependent on the government of Iraq for a majority, if not all, of their basic needs," says the report, published online yesterday by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, a pressure group based at Cambridge University.

"Unlike the situation in 1991, they have no way of coping if they cannot access them: the sanctions regime, if anything, has served to increase dependence on the government as almost the sole provider."

'Christopher Klein Beekman, a programme co-ordinator for Unicef in Iraq, told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Iraq is already in crisis. The capacity for withstanding shortages is very light. Malnourished children, pregnant women have suffered the most and those are the ones who will suffer the most during war, that's clear."'

"No one in the international community can spend money on preparations because that would give the message that war is inevitable," said Majeed Waleed, the deputy manager for Care International, the largest non-government organisation in Iraq. "It's a political statement. So we can't do anything."

The human impact of the war will depend partly on whether the public health infrastructure is targeted.

'The war may also see the use of the “blackout bomb', a highly secret weapon designed to disable electrical power grids. These 'soft bombs' which dispense large amounts of carbon fibre filaments, can be delivered by cruise missiles or tactical aircraft.' (Sunday Telegraph, 29 Dec. 2002, p. 6)

Paul Sherlock, Oxfam’s leading sanitation expert, who has worked in the region for more than 20 years, says a war targeting the power stations needed for the water system, posed the possibility of 'all sorts of epidemics' and a 'very high risk of water- related diseases.' (Independent on Sunday, 29 Dec.2002, p. 2)

One debate still ongoing in the Pentagon is the extent to which the allies should bomb electric power grids. 'I would shut down the electricity,' [retired US Air Force Col. John] Warden said. 'I know I'm in a minority here [but] If you shut down the electricity it makes it that much harder for him to operate.' (Washington Times, 20 Dec.)

In 1991, Col. Warden pursued this strategy in the war on Iraq as Deputy Director of Strategy, Doctrine and Plans for the US Air Force, and he acknowledged that the wrecking of Iraq's electricity system "gives us long-term leverage: If there are political objectives that the UN coalition has, it can say, 'Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity'" (Middle East Watch, Needless Deaths in the Gulf War, p. 192)

In a report to the Security Council in Feb. 1998, Kofi Annan referred to the 'threat of a complete breakdown' in power generation, saying that the humanitarian consequences of such a breakdown 'could potentially dwarf all other difficulties endured by the Iraqi people'. (1 Feb. 1998)


See Voices in the Wilderness and Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI) for more information on the effect of war and sanctions.

View a report from the 11th Voices sanctions-breaking delegation to Iraq, May 2002

Read Iraqi People Facing Humanitarian Crisis
An Interview With Dennis Halliday

by Dennis Halliday and Scott Harris
Between the Lines, April 07, 2003

Between The Lines: Do you see any sign that the United States and Britain are taking seriously their obligations and making distribution of food, water and medicine a high priority in this war?

Denis Halliday: No, I'm very sad to say, despite the television coverage, what I'm seeing is propaganda. A lot of hoopla about bringing in one ship into Um Qaser. It wasn't an orderly system, it looked more like looting to me. But nevertheless, it was distribution from the back of a truck to aggressive young men who came out of these places to look for food and took the packets and the water. But that does not guarantee that the food gets to orphans, to single mothers, to families. This is a humiliation, in my view, of the Iraqi people who are being forced to beg, in a sense, in their own country under these terrible conditions imposed upon them by the United States and Britain. It's tragic. To watch it I find it absolutely awful and it must humiliate, not just the Arabs in Iraq, but throughout the entire community.

Reports (pre-war) on the possible humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq


A newly-obtained confidential UN document predicts that 30 percent of children under 5 in Iraq, or 1.26 million, "would be at risk of death from malnutrition" in the event of a war.

The draft document, "Integrated Humanitarian Contingency Plan for Iraq and Neighbouring Countries", was produced by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 7 January 2003. Its release comes as aid agencies and government representatives meet urgently in Geneva to discuss humanitarian operations in the event of war."

The document contains the following key assessments:

"In the event of a crisis, 30 percent of children under 5 would be at risk of death from malnutrition" [p. 3(5)]. With 4.2 million children under five in Iraq [p. 3(5)], this represents 1.26 million children under five.

"the collapse of essential services in Iraq ... could lead to a humanitarian emergency of proportions well beyond the capacity of UN agencies and other aid organizations" [p. 4(6)]

"all UN agencies have been facing severe funding constraints that are preventing them from reaching even minimum levels of preparedness" [p. 1(3)]

"the effects of over 12 years of sanctions, preceded by war, have considerably increased the vulnerability of the population". [p. 3(5)]

"WFP [World Food Programme] estimates that approximately 10 million people ... would be highly food insecure, displaced or directly affected by military action" [p. 11(13)]

"in the event of a crisis, only 39 percent of the population would be serviced [with water] on a rationed basis" [p. 12(14)]

"UNHCR estimates that up to 1.45 million refugees and asylum-seekers may seek to flee Iraq in the event of a military conflict" [p. 9(11)]

"Up to 900,000 people may be displaced in addition to the 900,000-1,100,000 existing IDPs [internally displaced persons]" [p. 10(12)]

[from tables on p. 12(14)]
5,210,000 are highly vulnerable children under five and pregnant and lactating women.
500,000 potential direct and indirect casualties (overall population).
3,020,000 at nutritional risk (overall population).
18,240,000 might need access to treated water. 8,710,000 may need sanitation facilities.

View the full report.

Some excerpts from other recent reports

From Our Common Responsibility: The Impact of a New War on Iraqi Children by an International Study Team, January 2003

"The main findings of the report are presented in sections divided into Physical Well-
Being, Mental Well-Being and Emergency Preparedness. The first section, Physical
Well-Being concludes that despite some improvements in the health and nutritional status of children from their post-1991 Gulf War state, Iraqi children are still in a significantly worse state than they were before the 1991 Gulf War. Similarly, because most of the 13 million Iraqi children are dependent on food distributed by the Government of Iraq, the disruption of this system by war would have a devastating impact on children who already have a high rate of malnutrition. The state of the physical well-being of Iraqi children thus makes them much more vulnerable to war today than they were in 1991."

"Perhaps the most startling findings are based on field data collected by two of the world’s foremost child psychologists who are leading experts on the psychological impact of war on children. They found that Iraqi children suffer significant psychological harm from the threat of war that is hanging over their head. This finding, based on the first ever prewar psychological field research with children, is powerful evidence that the concern for children’s well-being needs to be considered in the decision making process about to take place in the United Nations Security Council."

" Finally, a review of the available data on emergency preparedness indicates that the international community has at present little capacity to respond to the harm that children will suffer by a new war in Iraq."

View the full report.

"Iraq: Consequences of War" by Professor Paul Rogers, October 2002

A detailed 10,000-word analysis by Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University, one of the foremost authorities on international security and consultant to Oxford Research Group. The report concludes that:

- is likely to result in the deaths of many thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians,
- carries a high risk of the use of weapons of mass destruction
- will lead to substantial regional instability, and increased support for al-Qaida,

View the full report.

Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq a report
by MEDACT, a charitable organisation of health proessionals, November 2002

From the Executive Summary:
"Up to four million people could die in a war on Iraq involving nuclear weapons. A more contained conflict could cause half a million deaths and have a devastating impact on the lives, health and environment of the combatants, Iraqi civilians, and people in neighbouring countries and beyond. It could also damage the global economy and thus indirectly harm the health and well-being of millions more people across the world."

"Credible estimates of the total possible deaths on all sides during the conflict and the following three months range from 48,000 to over 260,000. Civil war within Iraq could add another 20,000 deaths. Additional later deaths from post-war adverse health effects could reach 200,000. If nuclear weapons were used the death toll could reach 3,900,000. In all scenarios the majority of casualties will be civilians."

"The aftermath of a ‘conventional’ war could include civil war, famine and epidemics, millions of refugees and displaced people, catastrophic effects on children’s health and development, economic collapse including failure of agriculture and manufacturing, and a requirement for long-term peacekeeping. Destabilisation and possible regime change in countries neighbouring Iraq is also possible, as well as more terrorist attacks. Global economic crisis may be triggered through trade reduction and soaring oil prices, with particularly devastating consequences for developing countries."

"The financial burden will be enormous on all sides, with arms spending, occupation costs, relief and reconstruction possibly exceeding $150-200bn. The US is likely to spend $50bn - $200bn on the war and $5bn - 20bn annually on the occupation. As the report points out, $100bn would fund about four years of expenditure to address the health needs of the world’s poorest people."

Conflict will be more destructive than 1990-1991 Gulf War
"The avowed US aim of regime change means any new conflict will be much more intense and destructive than the 1990-91 Gulf War, and will involve more deadly weapons developed in the interim. Furthermore, the mental and physical health of ordinary Iraqis is far worse than it was in 1991, making them much more vulnerable this time round, and even less able to muster the resources needed for recovery and reconstruction."

"Thanks to the oil revenues and social policies of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Iraq pre 1991 had become a reasonably prosperous, urbanised, middle-income country with a modern social infrastructure and good public services. The combined effects of war and sanctions, only partly offset by the humanitarian relief of the Oil-for-Food programme, relegated it to a pre-industrial age, and it now occupies a lowly 126th place out of 174 in the UN Human Development Index."

View the full report.

A list of recent reports on the humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq can be found on the CASI site.

View the CAFOD Iraq photo gallery

A war on Iraq will be a disaster from a humanitarian perspective.
Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. (Independent on Sunday, 29 Dec. 2002, p. 2)

War on Iraq runs the risk of turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti- western terrorism.
Douglas Hurd, former Tory Foreign Secretary (Financial Times, 3 Jan.)

Many of us are deeply saddened to see a great country such as the United States aided and abetted extra-ordinarily by Britain. I mean [it is] mind- boggling... I have had a great deal of time for your Prime Minister, but I'm shocked.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner (Observer, 5 Jan.)

Given that 85 per cent of the Turkish people dont want a war, the party and government feel we must exhaust all peaceful solutions before reluctantly becoming involved in a war.
Murat Mercan, deputy chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party. (Financial Times, 10 Jan., p. 10)

No convincing evidence has been provided by Washington and London that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, or that it poses a threat to its neighbours (let alone to the West), or that there is any operational connection between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda. Thus far it has all been mere assertion, not worth a damn.
Corelli Barnett, right-wing historian (Telegraph, 30 Dec. 2002, p. 19)

Last night, one Cabinet minister warned: If Tony Blair sanctions a war on Iraq, it could split the Labour Party.
(Sunday Mirror, 12 Jan., p. 9)

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