The Bush administration is preparing to try to avert a humanitarian crisis in the event of U.S.-led military action against Iraq.
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, says the United States has plans in place for humanitarian relief in case of war in Iraq:
"Should there be a conflict, our intention is to protect the existing system," he said. "It is funded through the U.N. oil-for-food program. We expect and want that program to continue, because the system works."
Responding to questions from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Natsios said Iraq has an efficient, computerized food distribution network. The problem, he said, is that it is a totalitarian distribution system.
"The state is the sole supplier of food to 60 percent of the population," Mr. Natsios explained. "The danger of that, of course, is that when there is disruption for any reason, it is disastrous."
Mr. Natsios refused to provide details of U.S. relief plans, citing security concerns:
"There are security problems in me describing in too much depth what we are doing. We do have a plan, it is rather detailed," he said.
The AID administrator said seven months of food purchases have been made through the U.N. oil-for-food program so that food stocks would be available even if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sets fire to the country's oil fields.
The Executive Director of the World Food Program, James Morris, told the committee that his organization, with 850 employees working in Iraq, is also prepared to respond to any humanitarian crisis:
"I am confident that in this circumstance we will be able to do what needs to be done," he said.
The Washington Post newspaper Tuesday quotes U.S. officials saying Washington is spending millions of dollars to stockpile food, medicine and other emergency supplies in countries neighboring Iraq. The report says one million food rations have been stockpiled, with two million more on the way.