United NGO statement on Iraq

 Signed today by Save the Children UK, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, Help Age International, Islamic Relief and 4Rs. Based on the experience of our agencies and their partner organisations on the ground in Iraq we, the undersigned organisations, fear that a new war on Iraq risks deepening and extending the current humanitarian crisis: creating large numbers of civilian casualties and extending human suffering. We have serious concerns about a new war for the following reasons: There is a high possibility of large numbers of civilian casualties. Aerial bombardment, followed by the ground war that would be necessary to achieve the stated aim of some major powers of 'regime change', would place large numbers of civilians particularly in densely populated urban areas in grave danger. Years of war and sanctions have already created an extremely vulnerable population whose ability to cope with any additional hardship is very limited. This includes children, who make up almost half of Iraqi society, widows, the elderly and the poor. Child mortality rates have risen by 160 per cent under sanctions. According to UNICEF: "If the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been 500,000 fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole during 1991-1998." (UNICEF, 1999) Extensive and prolonged conflict risks undermining the essential supply of food and medicine to Iraqi civilians. The populations in the Kurdish North and the Centre/South already rely on monthly, imported food rations under the Oil for Food Programme. These rations last only three weeks on average. If the ration is cut in an emergency, monthly salaries of $3-$6 on average would be insufficient to purchase food from local markets. 30 per cent of children are already chronically malnourished (UNICEF, 2002). If the war is prolonged the risks of serious disruption of, and access to, local markets for essential food supplies will rise. Extensive and prolonged conflict would threaten key infrastructure. Water quality is already very poor for many Iraqis and the prime contributory cause of death for children. Risks of major health problems caused by further disruptions to water supplies and erosion of water quality would increase significantly if pumping stations and sewage treatment plants ceased functioning. Electricity infrastructure is vital for these installations, as well as for hospitals, but could become a military target as occurred during the Gulf War in any new conflict. Iraq already has approximately 700,000 internally displaced people. Increased conflict could lead to massive population displacement with catastrophic consequences if these people's access to food is cut off, or they find themselves trapped at closed borders. The heavily mined border not only poses a threat to those fleeing conflict but will cause major impediments to providing humanitarian supplies from external sources. A winter campaign would add to humanitarian problems, as this region would be heavily snowbound. Conflict has wider humanitarian implications. The wider repercussions of war will be felt throughout the region. We are concerned that the war could destabilise the region, and sow the seeds of future humanitarian crises. We urge the British government not merely to take effective steps to avoid exacerbating the current humanitarian crisis but to seek ways to improve the humanitarian situation, while pursuing a diplomatic solution to the current crisis. The current focus on the government's 'dossier of evidence', weapons inspectors and Iraqi disarmament should not detract from the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in Iraq for the past 12 years.