UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - As many as half a million Iraqis could require medical treatment as a result of serious injuries suffered in the early stages of a war on Iraq, U.N. emergency planners said in a document disclosed Tuesday.
The total includes some 100,000 expected to be injured as a direct result of combat and a further 400,000 wounded as an indirect result of the devastation, according to estimates prepared by the World Health Organization, the document said.
The confidential U.N. assessment was drafted a month ago but an edited version was posted Tuesday on the Web site of a British group opposed to sanctions on Iraq (http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/casi/info/undocs/war021210.pdf)
U.N. officials confirmed the authenticity of the document, which assumes that unlike the 1991 Gulf War, a new war in Iraq would develop beyond an initial aerial bombardment into a large scale and protracted ground offensive.
"The resultant devastation would undoubtedly be great," the U.N. planners concluded. The estimates were based on material from several different U.N. organizations.
The U.N. staff has been quietly planning for months how to cope with the humanitarian fallout from a conflict in Iraq.
But the process has been kept largely under wraps for fear it might be interpreted as a sign the world body had concluded the weapons inspections now under way would fail to avert war.
The confidential assessment assumes that Iraqi oil production would be shut down and the Iraqi electricity network, railway and road transportation systems would be significantly damaged.
U.N. officials had previously disclosed that as many as 4.5 million to 9.5 million of Iraq's 26.5 million people could quickly need outside food to survive once an attack began.
HUGE HOMELESS PROBLEM
War would also produce a huge refugee problem, driving some 900,000 Iraqis into neighboring countries, with about 100,000 of those requiring immediate assistance as soon as they arrived, according to the U.N. estimate.
Another 2 million could be driven from their homes but remain inside Iraq, where access by relief agencies would be a particular problem due to the fighting, the planners say.
The U.N. arms inspections resumed last month, after a four-year hiatus, under a U.N. Security Council resolution giving Baghdad a final chance to eliminate any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or face "serious consequences."
Chief arms inspector Hans Blix is due to provide an interim report to the Security Council on his findings Thursday. His first in-depth report is set for Jan. 27.
President Bush, who favors a "regime change" in Baghdad, has threatened to disarm Iraq through force if it fails to act on its own, although Washington says no decision has been made to go to war.
According to the assessment, Iraq can be expected to have four months' supply of basic medical supplies on hand at the start of a conflict. However, some key supplies would still likely be in short supply or nonexistent, it said.
Children under 5, pregnant women and mothers who are breast-feeding their infants "will be particularly vulnerable because of the likely absence of a functioning primary health care system in a post-conflict situation," it said.
"Furthermore, the outbreak of diseases in epidemic if not pandemic proportions is very likely," it said. "Diseases such as cholera and dysentery thrive in the environment ... When determining the requirement for pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, these factors must be considered."
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd