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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
'Humanitarian disaster' looms in Iraq
An Iraqi Kurdish mother with her child in a refugee camp in Iran
After the Gulf War thousands of Iraqi Kurds fled to Iran

Aid workers are increasingly concerned about a humanitarian catastrophe if a new war is launched against Iraq.

A recent statement by a number of charities warns of mass civilian deaths and an exacerbation of an existing humanitarian crisis.


If prompt humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered in accordance with refugee status, the situation could become life threatening

Rob MacGillivray, Save the Children
"In the Gulf War, we are aware of the mistargeting of weapons installations due to aerial bombardment and the fact that civilian shelters were hit," George Gelber from the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development told BBC News Online.

He added that the greatest fear is for the hundreds of thousands of people who are in a weakened and vulnerable state because of previous wars and the sanctions regime.

At present a large proportion of the population depends on food rations through the oil-for-food programme. This could be disrupted by aerial bombardment, aid workers warn.

Displacement

"Conflict in Northern Iraq's highly urbanised population would interrupt food supplies and cut electricity, water and sanitation, which could result in displacement on a very large scale and separating children from their families," said Rob MacGillivray, Save the Children UK's Regional Emergencies Adviser, after an assessment visit in August 2002.

"If prompt humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered in accordance with refugee status, the situation could become life-threatening. Access to remote mountainous areas is difficult, especially in winter. Fuel is already in short supply and private food stocks will run low in winter."

Iraqi women shop in a market in Baghdad
Some Iraqis are stockpiling food, but most are too poor to do so
Iraq already has some 700,000 displaced people.

Mr Gelber says the fear of civil strife between Iraq's various ethnic groups cannot be ruled out.

"The US wants a regime change, but there is no government waiting in the wings. Iraq is a divided society and this raises the possibility of the settling of scores and chaos between the constituent groups," he says.

In the Gulf war, thousands of people fled to Jordan, Turkey and Iran.

Afghanistan example

Paul Smith-Jones, humanitarian director of Oxfam warns against the repeat of a situation in which, "an enormous humanitarian operation had to be mounted to keep people alive".

One of the biggest concerns among aid workers is that, following a war, there would be insufficient priority and funds given to aid the reconstruction efforts.

Many in the NGO community are looking at the example of Afghanistan, where according to Save the Children, there is a $166m shortfall in funding to meet Afghanistan's reconstruction priorities by 2003.

It adds that even countries that have pledged money to aid the effort in Afghanistan have failed to deliver. Britain, for example pledged $285 but has only disbursed $85m.


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01 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Apr 00 | Middle East
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