WASHINGTON - Some 30 percent of all Iraqi children under five, or more than 1.2 million children, "would be at risk of death from malnutrition" in the event of a United States-led invasion of Iraq, according to a confidential United Nations document obtained by two anti-war groups and released Monday.
The document, which was drafted January 7 by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also finds that less than 40 percent of Iraq's entire population may have access to water if a military attack caused nationwide disruption.
Its disclosure--which comes as aid agencies and government representatives are meeting in Geneva to discuss humanitarian operations if a war occurs--was made by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) in New York and the British-based Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI).
They said UN officials favoring a fuller and more open debate about the potential humanitarian impact of war had provided the document. They added that the draft itself may have been superceded by other plans prepared over the past five or six weeks.
"These UN estimates reveal that the people of Iraq are facing a humanitarian crisis of overwhelming severity," said CASI coordinator Jonathan Stevenson. "The US$30 million of emergency aid [committed by the British government] offered to handle this - little more than $1 per Iraqi - is wholly inadequate."
CESR and CASI are not the only groups concerned about the possible humanitarian impact of an invasion, which many analysts believe could take place as early as late this month or early March.
Human Rights Watch last week released a 25-page briefing paper which called the potential for crisis "particularly acute in Iraq's central and southern regions, where possibly tens of thousands of people who rely solely on government rations...could immediately face serious shortages."
Amnesty International also wrote to the leader of the UN Security Council last week to express "deep concern" over the possibility that the current human rights and humanitarian situations in Iraq "may rapidly deteriorate in case of military action."
"In particular, there is a risk of renewed human rights abuses by the Iraqi authorities, armed opposition groups, other parties involved in the military operations, and reprisals on ethnic or other grounds. There is therefore a clear need for close scrutiny of, and expert advice on, the human rights situation in Iraq," according to Amnesty chief Irene Khan.
U.S. nongovernmental relief and humanitarian organizations have also expressed concern. In a unusually direct statement published last Thursday, a coalition of 160 groups, some of which have worked with the U.S. military in the past, said it was "greatly concerned about the state of preparedness for the humanitarian response in Iraq."
"We are left with the impression that the U.S. government may be unprepared to mount an adequate response to meet the relief and reconstruction needs of a country in which 60 percent of the people already rely on international donations to live," wrote Mary McClymont, head of the InterAction coalition.
The January 7 document offers low-, medium-, and high-impact scenarios for a military campaign and notes that most UN planning to date is based on a "medium-impact" scenario, one which lasts two to three months and results in "considerable destruction of critical infrastructure and sizeable internal and external population movements." Access to war-affected civilians would be "severely limited" during the conflict.
The report stresses that the collapse of essential services--virtually all controlled by the government of President Saddam Hussein --could lead to a "humanitarian emergency of proportions well beyond the capacity of UN agencies and other aid organizations." It noted an estimate from the UN's World Food Programme that some 10 million people would be "highly food insecure, displaced or directly affected by military action."
In addition, up to 1.45 million people seeking refuge may try to flee Iraq if war breaks out, while the number of people in Iraq who are displaced from their homes, currently one million, may increase twofold.
More than five million highly vulnerable children, pregnant women or new mothers would also be at greatest risk, according to the report, while 18 million people may need access to treated water.
Copyright 2003 OneWorld.net