Aid agencies say war could spell disaster for Iraqui people

 On the eve of the UN Security Council meeting today, to discuss the latest weapons inspectors' progress report, the aid agencies are calling on Tony Blair and other world leaders to draw back from the brink of war - which they say cpuld trigger a humanitarian disaster. Members of the British Overseas Aid Group (Oxfam, CAFOD, Christian Aid, ActionAid and Save the Children) say any major military action is likely to lead to a humanitarian crisis and increase civilian suffering in addition to fuelling regional instability. Assessments of the humanitarian situation in Iraq show that up to 16 million people are entirely dependent on food aid and the country's water and sanitation system is stretched to the limit. Under the Geneva Conventions it is against international humanitarian law for 'any objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population' to be targeted during military action. In the case of Iraq, these objects include infrastructure such as ports, railways and roads vital for the distribution of food aid across the country as well as the water and sanitation system, powered by the mains electricity supply. Oxfam director Barbara Stocking said: "Military action against Iraq could devastate the lives of millions of people. The humanitarian situation in Iraq is now more fragile than it was on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War. Water and sanitation systems are stretched to the limit and malnutrition, especially among women and children, is widespread and it is because of these concerns that Oxfam believes war now to be unjustifiable." Daleep Mukarji, director of Christian Aid, said: "We believe that peaceful alternatives to conflict are not yet exhausted. All parties have a legal - and we believe a moral - obligation to seek the peaceful resolution of this dispute through the UN."

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