Three weeks ago, Kuwait was the launching pad for the U.S.-led coalition's entry into Iraq. Today it serves as the staging area for the humanitarian aid flowing into Iraq.
At the docks and airports in Kuwait, one can see the arrival of large-bellied supply planes and ships loaded with tons of relief supplies.
Countries from all over the world are opening their warehouses to provide relief to the people of Iraq. Even countries that once opposed the war are joining in.
But dispersing humanitarian aid under any circumstances is a tremendous task. To speed up the process, the U.N. is increasing its humanitarian work in or near Iraq while the U.S. is easing restrictions on entering Iraq in order to assist humanitarian aid groups.
"Getting a lot of products and materials up into Iraq, we don't do it ourselves," said Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Killy, with the Humanitarian Operation Center based in Kuwait. "We make the coordination for the other organizations and also we get the information from the military coalition forces as for what is needed in Iraq in different places. They tell us what is needed and then we tell the humanitarian organizations that this particular product is needed in this area and then if they have an offer, they give it to us and we coordinate the movement."
To make travel even easier, the U.S. State Department is dropping its 12-year old ban on U.S. citizens travelling to Iraq. U.S. diplomats, government employees, contractors, U.N. employees and U.S. citizens, as long as they are taking part in humanitarian aid, are entering Iraq with relative ease.
But the transportation and distribution of so much aid is fraught with complex issues. No one has yet decided for sure who should be in charge of the humanitarian aid work in Iraq: the U.S., the U.K. and the U.N. are all candidates. The U.S. is running things at the moment but Lt. Col. Killy stresses his unit simply facilitates aid dispersal. They have no intention of being a direct provider of aid or of deciding which NGO can give what kind of aid to Iraq.
"Well, we are not in a position to recommend them--agencies, U.N., the government, non-government," he said. "Everyone is welcome to provide aid and they just have to contact us and we will coordinate it. We are not concerned about which country you are from or whether it is international, government or private. We welcome everyone."
Many Persian Gulf countries, European countries, Russia and China want the U.N. to be in charge of humanitarian aid to Iraq. Along these lines, a three-nation conglomerate supports Lieutenant Killy's Humanitarian Operations Center.
"It is an organization of Americans, British and Kuwaiti. Our leader is with the government of Kuwait, but we are combined group of U.S., Kuwaiti and British," he said.
Many areas in Iraq still experience looting and robberies, and even armed clashes. Humanitarian aid organizations find it difficult to operate in such conditions. It seems to this reporter that Southern Iraq's greatest need at the moment is potable water, whereas Baghdad's dual needs are electric power and medicine.
"A lot of water, either bottled water and also tanker trucks, are bringing it up. A lot of order is coming. Also food and medicine, and medical equipment. We need a lot of that," he said.
The situation in southern Iraq remains fluid. Looting has subsided; humanitarian aid is slowly starting to arrive in sufficient quantity. From the looks of things at the docks and airports in Kuwait, help is on the way. The problem is organizing its distribution.