The Humanitarian Costs of War
A leaked U.N. report calculated up to a half-million people could require medical attention in case of a military conflict, the British daily Guardian reported Jan. 29. The World Health Organization estimated that about 100,000 civilians could be wounded, and another 400,000 would be hit by disease due to the bombing of water and sanitation services and the lack of food.
The U.N. Children's Fund calculated that around 3 million people, 80% of them children under age 5, would be in a dire situation regarding a lack of food. The U.N. report noted that some 16 million Iraqis depend on the monthly food basket of basic goods supplied by the government. In the event of war these supplies likely would be disrupted.
On Jan. 28 a group of U.K. aid organizations -- Oxfam, CAFOD, Christian Aid, ActionAid and Save the Children -- published a joint press release warning that military action could trigger a major humanitarian disaster. "Military action against Iraq could devastate the lives of millions of people," Oxfam director Barbara Stocking was quoted as saying. "The humanitarian situation in Iraq is now more fragile than it was on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War."
The declaration also commented that 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 main electricity supply.