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Researchers from the Center for Economic and Social Rights Reveal Relief
Agencies Unprepared for Likely Humanitarian Catastrophe in Iraq

New York, January 30, 2003 -- A US-led military intervention in Iraq will
trigger the collapse of an already fragile Iraqi  public health system,
leading to a humanitarian crisis that far exceeds the capacity of the
United Nations and relief agencies, according to a report released today in
Baghdad by the New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).

Researchers associated with CESR report that the fragile Iraqi health care
system, already badly damaged by 12 years of economic sanctions, is woefully
inadequate to deal with the effects of a new war.  Among their findings:

92% of hospitals surveyed indicated they were lacking basic medical
equipment; Intra-operative and post-operative surgical care is virtually
unavailable;  Basic laboratory tests are limited by a chronic lack of
essential equipment and supplies; Damage to electrical and water systems
will severely constrain medical services; Shortages of medications,
including antibiotics, already undermine routine medical care; and  Medical
system is poorly equipped to handle care of civilian casualties resulting
from war.

The report warns that while UN agencies anticipate a "humanitarian emergency
of exceptional scale and magnitude," they lack an effective response
capacity. "Our report confirms that it is unlikely that international relief
agencies can avert a major humanitarian disaster," said Michael Van Rooyen,
Director of the Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee
Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Iraq has become like a vast refugee camp," said Ronald Waldman, Professor
of Clinical Public Health and Director of the Program on Forced Migration
and Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of  Public Health. "The
population survives largely on government food rations and depends on a
fragile public health system. They are extremely vulnerable."

The report's findings are based on a research mission from January 19-29 by
a CESR team of 16 humanitarian experts, including Hans von Sponeck, former
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. Working in northern, central and
southern Iraq, team members interviewed UN and Iraqi government  officials;
visited hospitals, clinics, public markets, electricity, water and
sanitation plants, and other civilian sites; and reviewed confidential UN

The research findings question the capacity of relevant actors to operate
effectively in light of the anticipated destruction of transportation and
communications systems and the collapse of the public infrastructure.
Current health and nutritional needs of the Iraqi population are served by a
massive and  highly complex system administered by the government of Iraq.
US-based relief organizations which the United States hopes will replace
these crucial government-run operations in the event of war have little or
no recent history of working in Iraq. The time necessary for them to become
fully operational in Iraq may result in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi

Pentagon war plans for Iraq explicitly threaten the precarious civilian
infrastructure, in violation of  international law. One of the first targets
of the planned military campaign will be Iraq's electricity grid,  which
will cause catastrophic damage to water, sanitation, public health, and food
distribution systems. As in the 1991 Gulf War, this form of warfare will
claim an enormous number of civilian lives, many of  them children. Such
disproportionate collateral damage would violate fundamental principles of
the laws of war, including the Geneva conventions--which prohibit attacking
"objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population."

Philip Alston, Professor of Law at New York University and former top U.N.
human rights official, said "The rules of engagement are clear. If war
cannot be prevented, both the United States and Iraq are obligated to comply
with the same standards to which every other country in the world is
subject. President Bush has publicly threatened war crimes prosecution for
every Iraqi soldier who follows illegal orders. This is entirely
appropriate. But no American official has warned U.S. troops that they  too
can be held accountable for war crimes.  If any party seeks to act above the
law, CESR and   likeminded human rights groups will work to ensure they are
held accountable for their actions."

Roger Normand, Executive Director of CESR, said "It is now the duty of
global civil society to demand  that the Bush Administration abide by these
laws, not only for the sake of innocent civilians in Iraq, but also to avoid
a precedent whereby children and other noncombattants are deprived of all
protections in war."

CESR also concluded a first round of talks with Deputy Foreign Minister
Tariq Aziz and other members of the Iraqi government as part of an
international civic peace initiative organized by the Center. Comprised of
prominent experts in conflict resolution and international human rights law
from the United States, South Africa, Germany, and Australia, the CESR
delegation wrapped up a week-long series of preliminary discussions on
disarmament and regional security. Roelf Meyer, Chair of the Civil Society
Initiative of South Africa and former Minister of Defense and Constitutional
Affairs, said "The next step will be to report to the President [Thabo
Mbeki, President of the Republic of South Africa] and the  international
press. The joint way forward is a government, multilateral organization, and
civic society initiative in the time that is available to avoid war."

The Center for Economic and Social Rights, based in New York is a
non-partisan international organization dedicated to promoting social
justice through human rights. CESR executive staff has led six humanitarian
missions to Iraq, including the Harvard Study Team and International Study
Team  missions in March and August of 1991. CESR's mission to Iraq in 1996,
the first to document human rights violations caused by Security Council
sanctions, was featured by the CBS news program 60 Minutes. CESR is funded
by a broad range of individuals and foundations, including the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur, Ford and Joyce Mertz-Gilmore foundations.

For copies of the report and full list of participants, contact Riptide
Communications (212) 260-5000 or CESR (718) 237-9145 ext. 13 or Ayliz Baskin
by email at (

~ anai Rhoads

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