U.S. Accused Of Using Food As Weapon In Iraq War
by Julio Godoy
(IPS) PARIS --
U.S. government is using hunger and food as weapons in the war against Iraq, a French humanitarian organization has charged.
"In his speech of Mar. 17 President George Bush announced that the army would distribute food to the Iraqi people after the regime of Saddam Hussein is removed from power," says Jean-Christophe Rufin, president of Action against Hunger, a French NGO (non-governmental organization) that distributes food in emergency zones. "This is blackmail, and amounts to a demand that the Iraqi people capitulate in exchange for food."
This use of hunger and food as weapons violates the fourth Geneva Convention which provides for protection of the civilian population in a war, Rufin says.
Rufin also criticized the decision of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to suspend the oil for food program in Iraq. "By suspending this scheme, Annan is supporting U.S. plans of preparing a siege against the Iraqi population," Rufin says.
Until last week Iraq was allowed under the scheme to export oil to pay for food imports and humanitarian material. The scheme has delivered humanitarian supplies and equipment worth $26 billion to Iraq, including $1.6 billion worth of spares and equipment for the oil industry.
An additional $10.9 billion worth of supplies were in the pipeline, according to a UN report last week.
The UN had established after the last Gulf War in 1991 that "the Iraqi people may soon face further imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met." This alert led the UN Security Council to adopt resolution 986 in 1995 establishing the oil for food programme.
The program which was launched in December 1996 permitted Iraq to sell two billion dollars worth of oil every six months, with two-thirds of that amount to be used for humanitarian needs. The ceiling on oil exports was raised to $5.26 billion every six months in 1998, and lifted in December 1999.
Until last week 72 percent of money from oil exports was used to fund the humanitarian program. Of this, 59 percent was earmarked for supplies and equipment by the Iraq government to the 15 central and southern provinces. The UN implements the program in the three northern provinces, using 13 percent of the proceeds from oil exports.
Rufin says the UN could have continued to manage the scheme even during the war. "Of course, for security reasons the UN officers had to leave Iraq, but other UN agencies could have continued managing the supply of humanitarian aid especially through non-governmental organizations."
Now two-thirds of the Iraqi population are without assistance, and at the mercy of the U.S. food strategy, he says.
Most international NGOs are becoming alarmed about a humanitarian crisis in Iraq. The U.S.-based CARE says the war could provoke famine, mass exodus and scarcity of medicine.
Jean-Yves Troy who heads the Iraq programme of the French NGO 'First Aid' says Iraq has food reserves for at most a month. "If the government crumbles completely, millions of people won't have anything to eat," he says.
Troy says people have no means to flee the country for good. "Those who could go abroad have gone already," he says. "The rest can at best escape from the major cities, and try to survive in the villages, or in the desert."
UN agencies are short of money for relief work in Iraq, Troy says. The World Food Program has demanded 23 million dollars for relief activities in Iraq, and has received only $7 million, he says.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has allocated only $20 million for its emergency program in Iraq, instead of the estimated $60 million needed, Troy says.
This lack of funds is in part a consequence of the long diplomatic battle within the UN over U.S. war plans. Many countries including France reduced allocation of funds for emergency programs in Iraq because they saw this allocation as a part of "the logic of war" propagated by the United States.
The war in Iraq comes also in the midst of a medical catastrophe. Between 1989 and 2000 the number of typhoid cases in Iraq rose from 2,000 to more that 24,000, and those of dysentery from 20,000 to more than 650,000, CARE says.
The group Warchild warns that war will have "a devastating effect upon Iraqi children." More than half a million Iraqi children suffer already from chronic malnutrition, Warchild says.
The report says the mortality rate among children under five years of age has risen three times since 1990. About five million Iraqi children suffer from depression, it says.
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