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[casi] Dual crisis looms for millions in Iraq

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

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."

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