Working to Prevent Humanitarian Disaster in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2003 While there has been no decision to go to war with Saddam Hussein, the U.S. military has been working to avert a humanitarian crisis in the country should conflict become inevitable.
The Defense Department has been working with international aid organizations, nongovernmental organizations and other federal agencies to ensure that humanitarian aid flows quickly to those who need it, said Joseph J. Collins, deputy assistant defense secretary for stability operations, during a Pentagon press conference today.
DoD's goals are to minimize the displacement of the Iraqi people, limit damage to infrastructure and avoid the disruption of services wherever possible, he said.
Collins said DoD would support humanitarian relief efforts during a conflict and reconstruction efforts after one. Defense officials have been meeting for more than five months with State Department and Agency for International Development experts in humanitarian relief and reconstruction.
Since the Gulf War, the economy of Iraq has suffered. Hussein's refusal to disarm, his continued diversion of funds from food to palaces and his attempts at ethnic cleansing have served to keep U.N. sanctions in place. As a result, Iraq's per capita gross domestic product has dropped from a pre-Gulf War $4,714 per year to $2,475 in 2001. Life expectancy has dropped from 62 years to 56. The infant mortality rate has climbed from 72 deaths per thousand live births to 92 per thousand. Daily caloric intake dropped from 2,932 to 2,232.
Other statistics show Iraq already has a humanitarian crisis of note. U.N. officials estimate 800,000 Iraqis are displaced within the country while another 740,000 have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
There are many uncertainties in fashioning the international community's response to the need for humanitarian assistance. First, would Hussein employ chemical and biological weapons in the event of war? Collins said combat forces would have to deal with that aftermath and a vastly complicated humanitarian picture.
Iraqi forces set fire to Kuwaiti oil wells as they retreated in the Gulf War. Would they do that to their own wells? What other Iraqi infrastructure might Hussein target?
U.N. personnel who monitor the Oil-for-Food program would be pulled out in the event of war. How do you rebuild a distribution infrastructure?
"In the event of a conflict, the U.S. will devote unprecedented attention to humanitarian relief and the prevention of excessive damage to infrastructure and to unnecessary casualties," Collins said.
"We will do this by three methods," he continued. "The Department of Defense is engaged in careful targeting to ensure the minimum amount of damage. Second, we are engaged in what we call 'humanitarian mapping' to ensure that our combat forces know where the enemy is and where (nongovernmental) and international facilities that have a humanitarian impact are. Thirdly, we are engaged in detailed cooperation with international organizations and NGOs."
DoD will not lead a humanitarian effort in Iraq, but rather work with civilian relief agencies that do run them. "They have the expertise," Collins said. "We will help them where we can, but they are the organizations that do the 'heavy lifting.'"
DoD's main push, therefore, is to get the United Nations, international relief agencies and other nongovernmental agencies back in place as soon as possible, he said.
The Agency for International Development's Disaster Assistance Response Teams will work closely with Civil- Military Operations Centers to ensure that basic human needs are met once combat troops leave an area.
DoD has stockpiled 3 million Humanitarian Daily Rations in undisclosed nearby areas. It also has given grants to the U.N. World Food Program so it can begin to ready other supplies.
Collins said the department will continue to meet with other governmental, international and humanitarian organizations, but the department will follow the lead of the State Department in this important aspect.