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Aid Group Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq


At the start of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, President Bush declared to the Iraqi people that help was "on the way" in the form of food, medicine and other aid. Four years later, a major international relief organization is warning of a major humanitarian crisis in Iraq brought about by hunger and inadequate clean drinking water. VOA's Michael Bowman has details from Washington.

In a report released Monday, the international aid organization, Oxfam, reports that malnutrition, lack of drinking water and the number of internally displaced people are greater today in Iraq than before the 2003 invasion. Raymond Offenheiser is president of the U.S. chapter of Oxfam, which is headquartered in London.

"Currently there are some eight million Iraqis who are in need of emergency aid," said Offenheiser. "Two million of those are refugees who have actually fled the country, and there are another two million internally displaced people, mostly women and children. And then there are another four million Iraqis who are in a position of not having enough to eat, not having access to clean water, and lacking access to health care facilities and services."

Offenheiser adds that while suicide bombings and sectarian violence dominate the international news coverage of Iraq, there is an untold story of suffering, particularly in Iraq's more remote regions, that deserves the world's attention.

Before Saddam Hussein was toppled, Oxfam warned of dire humanitarian consequences in the aftermath of an invasion, and Offenheiser says that, sadly, many predictions have come true. Where to put the blame? Offenheiser says international funding for reconstruction projects in Iraq far exceeds direct humanitarian assistance.

But he says primary responsibility for the well-being of Iraq's people lies with Iraqi officials. With that in mind, he has several suggestions for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"It could increase emergency cash [given] to widows and their children from $100 to $200 per month, and this same kind of payment system could also be extended to other vulnerable populations," said Offenheiser.

"It could update the food distribution system so that displaced people can receive food rations. It could decentralize the aid distribution system and give power and resources to local authorities to store and distribute emergency supplies to the local aid agencies that deliver them to citizens," he added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. office that monitors reconstruction projects in Iraq says progress is being hampered by terrorist activity, rampant corruption and political instability. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says many projects are not being carried out properly, with numerous cases of fraud, waste and abuse under investigation.

Among the projects that have suffered are efforts to overhaul and upgrade Iraq's electric power capacity. Oxfam did not comment on the inspector general's report, but Raymond Offenheiser notes that a lack of reliable power makes it virtually impossible to pump clean water or refrigerate perishable food, thereby adding to Iraq's humanitarian challenges.

Requests for comment from White House as well as Pentagon officials were not answered in time for this report.

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