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Dual crisis looms for millions in Iraq Brian Whitaker Thursday January 23, 2003 The Guardian Millions of Iraqis could face hunger and disease if the country's fragile infrastructure collapses during an American-led invasion, humanitarian agencies warned yesterday. Concern centres on food supplies, which depend heavily on the Baghdad government's distribution system, and on electricity supplies, which are essential for water and sewage services. About 15 million Iraqis, out of an estimated population of 24 million, depend on food rations provided under an agreement between the UN and the Iraqi government. The rations provide 2,200 calories a day, well below the average Iraqi's intake of 3,159 calories before the 1991 Gulf war, but even this meagre amount could be jeopardised by a new conflict. "If any military strike disrupted the Iraqi authorities' distribution of food or the transport network, there could be very, very serious humanitarian consequences," said Ed Cairns, a policy adviser for Oxfam. A similar warning came from Elkheir Khaled, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's representative in Iraq. "There is reliance of the peo ple here on the government and to get out of this dependency all of a sudden will be really disastrous, because people don't have the ability to cope," he said. "Without this ration, starvation will come like this," he said, snapping his fingers. In anticipation of an attack, Iraqi officials say they have stepped up food rations, but it is unclear how long these might last. Disease could also spread rapidly if air strikes knock out electrical power as happened in 1991. "Water and sanitation are electrically pumped in much of Iraq," Mr Cairns said. "So targeting of electricity supplies for military reasons could also have a very severe civilian effect." Iraq's national power supply has still not been fully repaired since the 1991 war, and is thought to be only two-thirds operational. Although many water treatment plants have their own generators, 70% of them do not work, according to the UN agency, Unicef. "The public health statistics in Iraq are already grim," Mr Cairns said, "and we would be very concerned that an existing humanitarian crisis could be tipped over the edge into catastrophe." _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk