AMMAN - Oxfam warned in a report Monday that unabated violence in Iraq is masking a humanitarian crisis that has worsened since the US-led invasion in 2003, putting at risk almost eight million Iraqis.
"While horrific violence dominates the lives of millions of ordinary people inside Iraq, another kind of crisis, also due to the impact of war, has been slowly unfolding," said the report by international relief agency Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi non-governmental organisations.
According to the 45-page report released in Amman, almost eight million Iraqis are in need of immediate emergency aid with children the hardest hit by worsening conditions. An estimated "43 percent of Iraqis suffer from 'absolute poverty'."
"Children are hit the hardest by the decline of living standards. Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19 percent before the US-led invasion in 2003 to 28 percent now," it said.
Among the eight million Iraqis in dire need of assistance are more than two million who are displaced within the country and more than two million who have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan and Iraq.
Many of those fleeing are professionals whose exodus leaves Iraqi services in an ever more precarious state, said the report by Oxfam and the NGO Co-ordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI).
"The brain drain' that Iraq is experiencing is further stretching already inadequate public services, as thousands of medical staff, teachers, water engineers, and other professionals are forced to leave the country," it said.
The report criticised the Iraqi government and the international community and donors for not "adequately addressing this deteriorating situation."
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Peter Kessler, "there has been an abject denial of the impact, the humanitarian impact, of the war," it said
The report castigated the Iraqi government and world community for focusing too much on reconstruction and building political institutions while overlooking the everyday needs of ordinary people.
"Funding for development and reconstruction in Iraq from the 22 Development Assistance Committee donors increased by 922 percent between 2003 and 2005 ... whereas funding for humanitarian assistance declined by 47 percent," it said.
"Political will must be found to improve the emergency support system for the poorest citizens, including the internally displaced," said report entitled "Rising to the humanitarian challenge in Iraq."
It noted that of the four million Iraqis who depend on food assistance, only 60 percent have access to rations from the government-run public distribution system, down from 96 percent in 2004.
The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent since 2003, while 80 percent lack effective sanitation.
It urged the beleaguered government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to decentralise the distribution of aid, reinforce the legal framework for civil society organisations to operate, and double emergency cash allowances to widows and families to 200 dollars a month.
Foreign governments, especially the United States and Britain, should provide technical and financial assistance to Iraqi ministries to implement these policies and provide basic services, it added.
The report charged that the US-led coalition of governments who sent forces to Iraq failed to predict the spiral of violence and "as a consequence their emergency preparedness plan was insufficient to cope with increasing basic needs."
"If people's basic needs are left unattended, this will only serve to further destabilise the country," it warned.
Copyright © AFP 2007