CAFOD says war on Iraq would shame the world

 CAFOD, the Catholic aid agency, says that from a humanitarian perspective, a war against Iraq would be a catastrophe that would bring shame on the world community. A report out today (Friday November 1, 2002) On the Brink of War: A Recipe for a Humanitarian Disaster, states that war must be avoided at all costs and a peaceful solution found to the dispute over weapons of mass destruction. The publication of the report follows a visit to Iraq by a delegation from Caritas Internationalis - the worldwide Catholic network of aid agencies - led by CAFOD's Director, Julian Filochowski. "Bombing and invasion would exact a terrible toll far worse than the Gulf War of 1991. This is not only because the bombing and fighting will inevitably focus on urban populated areas, especially Baghdad, but because the recovery of the people from the Gulf War is still so fragile. The horrendous burden of twelve years of sanctions and trade embargo has left the people highly vulnerable," said Mr. Filochowski, who returned from Iraq this week. The report says that between 14 and 16 million people - two thirds of the Iraqi population - are totally dependent on the monthly food ration distribution; and the country's health service and the patched-up electricity and water systems are still inadequate because of economic sanctions. It highlights the fact that estimates for civilian deaths range from a rather conservative figure of 10,000 to estimates of more than 10 times that figure depending on the scenario. "Precision bombing however skilful has a margin of error and in populated areas, if even five per cent of the missiles to be dropped in the first days of bombing go astray, and each kills and maims, then the casualties will mount very fast, especially when indirect deaths, from disease or as a result of the expected huge displacement of populations to refugee camps, are taken into account. "For the two thirds of the population dependent on the UN food rations there are few if any coping mechanisms once the food distributions are disrupted and water and sanitation systems collapse", said Mr. Filochowski. "In the end a war on Iraq will be devastating for the Iraqi people. They can never be considered collateral damage to a greater cause, when we are well aware of the full and terrible consequences of military action," he added. The delegation saw a disturbing picture of the suffering of what was once a prosperous nation that has been systematically de-developed and deskilled. Its people, at once vulnerable and resilient, continually struggle to assert their dignity even under the threat of invasion. "Ordinary people are frightened, aware that the prospect of military action is hanging over them like the sword of Damocles. War and rumours of war have a deep psychological impact on all people. While in Iraq delegation members heard about people selling off possessions to raise cash, buying in stores of food and fuel and wondering where they can find a safe place for their children, not knowing what next month will bring. Whatever their grievances or suffering the Iraqi people do not want war; it is simply untrue that any kind of war is welcome to them", said Mr. Filochowski. The report concludes: "Heavy bombardments and the use of military forces will have incalculable consequences for a civilian population that has already suffered so much. It would be difficult to imagine a single, more effective way of wreaking devastation on an already devastated country and creating a major humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. CARITAS Internationalis is planning to assist its local partner, Caritas Iraq, to prepare its 13 nutrition centres across Iraq to operate as first aid posts to help deal with casualties in the event of bombing. To see the report, visit:

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