Iraq is on the brink of war and, as a result, teetering on the
edge of a humanitarian disaster.
Child mortality rates have rocketed since the United Nations imposed
sanctions in 1990. Up to 16 million people - more than two thirds
of the population - already rely on a fragile system of food aid
for their survival.
What are we planning to do about this? Australia and the United
States are gearing up for war.
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad has decades of experience of working
in conflict. We know the terrible impact that military action has
on innocent people.
In some cases, for example Rwanda, military action is necessary
to save lives and justified. But, on the basis of our experience
- and the current evidence - it is very difficult to see how a military
strike on Iraq can be justified, nor indeed how such an attack could
be waged without violating international humanitarian law.
Iraq's economy is already devastated. Even with the food rationing
system set up by the international community, malnutrition is widespread,
especially among women and children.
A recent visit to Iraq by aid-agency experts, including an Oxfam
specialist, confirmed that the water and sanitation system is on
the verge of collapse.
Most urban homes get piped water but two thirds of it is untreated.
In rural parts of central and southern Iraq, UNICEF says that only
46 per cent of homes have piped water. In the towns, the trucks
that empty cesspits and septic tanks aren't working properly because
there are no spares, tyres or batteries. Sewage flows back into
Iraq's water and sanitation system depends on an electrical supply
that was crippled during the 1991 air strikes. Eleven years later,
it is estimated that one third of the national power supply is still
down. Most water treatment plants have their own generators but
70 per cent of them don't work.
Any military action that damages power supplies will inevitably
destroy the already fragile water and sanitation system. Inevitably,
diseases such as cholera and hepatitis will sweep through the population.
Any attack that affects roads, ports or railways will lead to the
collapse of the system of food distribution upon which the bulk
of Iraq's population depends.
Article 54 of Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention prohibits
attacks upon "objects indispensable to the survival of the
civilian population". In Iraq, this includes ports, roads,
railways and power lines. The Convention states that "in no
event shall actions against these objects be taken which may be
expected to leave the civilian population with such inadequate food
or water as to cause its starvation or force its movement".
Given this, how can an attack on Iraq fail to violate international
Weapons of mass destruction are a real threat to global stability.
However in this case, the advocates of military action are failing
to demonstrate that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction pose such
an imminent threat that the risks to civilians can be ignored.
The people of Iraq are already suffering from Iraqi government
policy in addition to 12 years of inept sanctions. If there is a
military attack on Iraq, they stand to suffer a whole lot more.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.