Guardian Unlimited, July 30, 2007
One third of the Iraqi population needs emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by war and ongoing violence, according to a new report.Around 8 million Iraqis are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter, a joint report (pdf) released today by Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq said.
The document said that although armed violence is the greatest threat facing Iraqis, the population is also experiencing another crisis of “an alarming scale and severity”.
It was published as Gordon Brown met the US president, George Bush, determined to shift the focus in UK-US relations from Iraq to less divisive issues such as trade.
Mr Brown wants a quicker withdrawal of troops than the Bush administration. A report by the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, due in September, is expected to provide cover for a more rapid pullout.
Researchers found that 15% of Iraqis cannot regularly afford to eat, 70% do not have adequate water supplies (up from 50% in 2003), 28% of children are malnourished (compared with 19% before the invasion), and 92% of children suffer learning problems.
The report also said more than 2 million people – mostly women and children – have been displaced within Iraq and have no reliable income, while another 2 million Iraqis have fled the country as refugees, mostly to neighbouring Syria and Jordan.
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, the report warned. At the end of 2006, an estimated 40% had left.
“Basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people,” Jeremy Hobbs, the director of Oxfam International, said. “Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty.”
Mr Hobbs urged the Iraqi government, the UN and the international community to do more to help Iraqis.
“The Iraqi government must commit to helping Iraq’s poorest citizens, including the internally displaced, by extending food parcel distribution and cash payments to the vulnerable,” he said.
“Western donors must work through Iraqi and international aid organisations and develop more flexible systems to ensure these organisations operate effectively and efficiently.”
Oxfam called for a doubling of the monthly $100 (£50) cash allowances to households headed by widows, which would cost $2.4bn a year.
The UN, especially the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has a vital role to play in the provision of humanitarian assistance, the report said.
Its role would come in coordinating the assessment and delivery of needs, advising the government, mobilising resources, and advocating for enhanced civilian protection.
Oxfam has not operated in Iraq since 2003 for security reasons.
Earlier this month, a report by the world’s principal intergovernmental body on migration, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), warned (pdf) that the scale of Iraqi displacement was “fast becoming a regional and ultimately international crisis”.