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Notes to accompany "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios"

This is an explanatory note to accompany the UN document entitled "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios" which was obtained by CASI. The following versions of the document are hosted on our website:

A 4-page A5 booklet summarising the document is also available.

This "strictly confidential" UN document, dated 10 December 2002, examines "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios" in the event of a war in Iraq. It was written to assist with UN contingency planning for safeguarding the wellbeing of a population most of whom the document acknowledges are "highly dependent" upon a Government ration for their basic needs.

The document focuses on the likely outcomes for the infrastructure, the economy and Iraqi civilians, in the event of a range of anticipated military scenarios. Predictions include the serious degradation of the electricity sector, with the knock-on effect that all sectors - including health, water and sanitation - will have reduced capacity (para.5a). The extensive curtailment of access to potable water is anticipated (para.15). The document includes the following estimates for the humanitarian effects of military action:

  • In planning for the numbers that will require medical treatment, "as many as 500,000 could require treatment to a greater or lesser degree as a result of direct or indirect injuries" (para.23). A footnote bases this claim on World Health Organisation estimates of 100,000 direct casualties, and 400,000 indirect casualties. The high number of indirect casualties may be partially because "the outbreak of diseases in epidemic if not pandemic proportions is very likely." (para.25).

  • "It is estimated that the nutritional status of some 3.03 million persons countrywide will be dire and they will require therapeutic feeding. This consists of 2.03 million severely and moderately malnourished children under five and one million pregnant and lactating women." (para.27). A footnote identifies this as a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate.

  • "It is estimated that there will eventually be some 900,000 Iraqi refugees requiring assistance, of which 100,000 will be in need of immediate assistance." (para.35). A footnote identifies this as an estimate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The text focuses on humanitarian needs and coping mechanisms. As part of its analysis, the document presents the data of UN agencies on the existing humanitarian situation inside Iraq. The context is of the sanctions-induced humanitarian situation: a damaged economy and infrastructure, and almost total dependence on the Government of Iraq for basic needs provision. The document estimates that 16 million Iraqis are completely dependent on the monthly food rations, in that "they have no other means with which to provide for other essential requirements" (para.11). Chronic unemployment since 1991 has resulted in a situation in which "all except the most privileged have completely exhausted their cash assets and have also in most cases disposed of their material assets" (para.2).

The document presents an analysis of requirements for both emergency and protracted scenarios. Funding issues and relations with the military are also discussed.

The existence of this document was first reported in The Times (London) on 23 December 2002, in an article entitled "UN chief issues secret orders for war in Iraq". However, this is the first time that the document has been made publicly accessible.

Please note this UN document is a draft. Estimates and other content may have since been revised. Additionally, several paragraphs and tables have been deleted at the request of the individual who released the document, including the entirety of page 3.

The UN document was obtained by Nathaniel Hurd. He also prepared these notes for CASI.

4 January 2003


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