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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 16:32 GMT
US pledges relief for Iraq civilians
Iraqi refugees in 1991
War could spark a humanitarian crisis, aid agencies say

The commander of American military forces in the Gulf has said the US military will take much of the responsibility for providing food and medicine to the Iraqi people from the first day of any war.

General Tommy Franks told the New York Times that the US military was co-ordinating with international relief agencies and regional governments to prevent any humanitarian disaster for civilians.

Meanwhile US military officials told the newspaper that Washington is sending "millions of meals" to the region.

It is the clearest statement to date from US military about its role in providing immediate humanitarian assistance during any Iraqi war.

Given the current state of preparations, there really may be a catastrophe

Joel Charny, Refugees International

It follows allegations from some aid agencies that Washington is keeping them in the dark about humanitarian preparations.

Both the United Nations and the US military are now stockpiling supplies to help feed millions of people inside Iraq and possibly hundreds of thousands of refugees.

In the dark

But no-one knows exactly where any refugees might go, or whether neighbouring countries will accept them.

Aid agencies say contingency planning is further complicated by the fact that the US military has been keeping them in the dark about its own plans for humanitarian aid.

As a result, they say, the US military, the UN and non-governmental groups all appear to be planning on parallel, but separate, tracks.

The aid effort is also being dogged by cash shortages; donors appear unwilling to commit themselves until all diplomatic options on Iraq have been exhausted.

US Marines in training
The US military has promised to provide help

Meanwhile, US and international sanctions mean that few American aid agencies are currently able to work inside Iraq.

Joel Charny of the advocacy group Refugees International maintains that while Washington is spending billions on preparations for war, there has been a frightening lack of preparation for a potential humanitarian emergency.

"Given the current state of preparations, there really may be a catastrophe," he said.

"And we, the NGOs [non-governmental organisations], collectively, are not going to accept the blame if there's a humanitarian vacuum after this invasion.

Contingency plans

"Because we have not been given the means to adequately prepare for this emergency."

Refugees International is calling on the US Government to issue a declassified version of its humanitarian plan for Iraq.

Aid agencies, it says, need to be better informed in order to make their own contingency plans.


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04 Feb 03 | Middle East
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
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