War on Iraq: the humanitarian crisis

No special sitting of U.N. Human Rights body on Iraq situation
The decision of the UN Human Rights Commission not to have a special sitting to consider the human rights and humanitarian situation resulting from the US-led invasion of Iraq is one more blow to the United Nations and its bodies. By Chakravarthi Raghavan.

The US-led assault on Iraq currently under way will have dire consequences for the Iraqi people, many of whom will be deprived of food, water, shelter and medical treatment, estimates a United Nations report written before the onset of hostilities.

Dated 10 December 2002, the 'strictly confidential' internal UN document, Likely humanitarian scenarios, evaluates the probable humanitarian impacts of a war on Iraq. It was produced to assist with UN contingency planning for safeguarding the welfare of the population, and is based on estimates by UN humanitarian agencies. The document was leaked to a US non-governmental organisation and is available on the website of the UK-based Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI)

'While it is only a draft document, and estimates may since have been revised,' CASI noted in a summary of the report, 'it is probably the most authoritative information currently available regarding UN assessments of the humanitarian consequences of a war.'

With the US and its allies now having unleashed their fearsome military might on the Iraqi nation, the devastating 'humanitarian scenarios' outlined in the document just got a great deal likelier.

The report highlights a World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 100,000 civilians could be wounded and 400,000 more may require medical treatment for indirect injuries from the devastation wrought by the conflict.

Those who do escape injury face the threat of illness, as the report predicts that 'the outbreak of diseases in epidemic if not pandemic proportions is very likely.' Cholera and dysentery thrive in a war-ravaged environment, while the present low vaccination rates for measles, meningitis and the like only increase the likely health hazards facing the Iraqi population.

To make matters worse, the pharmaceuticals needed to cope with this potential health crisis may be lacking. Not only were some medical items already in short supply or non-existent at the time the report was written, but '[t]he expected increase in the instances of diarrhoeal disease and respiratory infections resulting from the conditions experienced in a post-conflict scenario, for example the absence of potable water and contaminated air (e.g., should oil fields be put ablaze, similar to what happened in Kuwait), as well as overcrowding, traumatic injuries, and a lack of refrigeration, would translate into an increased demand and consumption of medical supplies and drugs, rendering the existing stocks inadequate.'

As conditions deteriorate, it is children under five years old, pregnant and lactating women, and internally displaced persons who will be rendered particularly vulnerable by the likely absence of a functioning primary healthcare system in a post-conflict scenario, says the UN report. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that these groups number more than seven million in the central and southern regions of Iraq alone, underlining the sheer magnitude of the health problems which could besiege the war-torn country.

Read more:

Leaked U.N. report predicts dire humanitarian impacts from Iraq war

Strictly confidential: likely humanitarian scenarios
UN confidential report on the humanitarian consequences of a war on Iraq.

UN’s Office of the Iraq Programme

Information on the Oil-for-Food programme and other humanitarian actions in Iraq.

Read also:

Assessments of the likely humanitarian and economic consequences of war on Iraq
Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq’s webpage, with annotated links to the various relevant reports and assessments which have been published recently (Center for Economic and Social Rights, Unicef, WHO, Save the Children, among other sources).

War in Iraq: managing humanitarian relief
Now that the war has begun, it is important to deal with the urgent task of meeting the needs of the Iraqi people (International Crisis Group report, PdF format).

Humanitarian aid
Web resources and initiatives on the Iraq’s humanitarian challenge.

About Iraq
Different web resources about the situation in the Iraqi society, from the government, civil society, and international organizations.

In-depth report: War on Iraq
Conflict reports from alternative and mainstream media, as well as civil society organizations. Up-to-date information on civil casualties.

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