Monday, May 19, 2008

If you think there is a humanitarian crisis in Iraq now...

There has been a lot of talk over the past few months and even past couple of years with respect to the refugee crisis in Iraq - the flight of much of the professional class from Iraq, the displacement of millions of Iraqis and the sectarian cleansing are just some of the things that jump to mind. Couple that with the high unemployment rate, the lack of electricity, the ongoing violence and rampant corruption, and the outlook has been pretty bleak for quite some time.

However, the recent events and fighting in Sadr City that created a shortage of food, water and medicine for tens of thousands of Iraqis (including up to 75,000 children) is just the tip of the iceberg.

How can that be, you may ask.

Well, let’s add in one of the worst droughts in recent history that will result in an approximate 35% reduction in the production of wheat and barley, leading to thousands more jobless Iraqis, a lack of ability to feed livestock and the need to import wheat as well as vegetables for the first time in years. In fact, the cost to import food into Iraq is now estimated at around $5 BILLION.

Oh yeah, over one million Iraqis are now forced to rely on international food aid (that is, if the aid is even able to reach these people - as is not the case in portions of Iraq).

Let’s look at what this means, other than the danger of already-pissed off Iraqis now losing more jobs, not getting the requisite food, water and medicine, who may now turn to whoever is going to help them - even if it is the local militias or tribes:

From Gorilla’s Guides: Early Warning: Lack of fodder and lack of water because of the drought threaten a true disaster for livestock in Anbar. GZG funds have been requested to ameliorate the situation and preserve what livestock there is. High prices of fodder and no fuel to transport stock to where grass and water are still available are causing severe problems. About 3 million head of cattle are recorded for the governorate before the starting of the summer dry season this year.

This means that 3 million cattle can’t be fed, watered or even transported to another area where they can be fed or watered.

And this is Anbar province - remember Anbar, that province held up as a model of the “surge’s”success, despite the fact that we bribed the local tribes to temporarily not kill our troops. Well, now that resounding success will be tested further - and in an area that two weeks ago saw an attack that killed four Marines - the highest number of Marines killed in an attack since last September.

And what about other areas of Iraq? Let’s look at the Diyala province:

"The shortage of water is the biggest threat that Iraqi agriculture has ever faced," an employee in the directorate-general of irrigation for Diyala province, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "It threatens not only food but also employment in this city (Baquba, capital of the province).


The government is doing little to help people over this crisis. "The directorate is impotent and can give nothing to the farmers," the irrigation centre employee said. "Hundreds of thousands of acres are now desolate, and thousands of people jobless."

Most villagers work in farming, and now that farming no more sustains people as it did, life there is badly hit. Agriculture in this area kept Iraq supplied, and also produced enough for exports. But now farmers sometimes have a hard time feeding themselves.

Much of this has happened over the past year - since an Oxfam International report found a severe humanitarian crisis including the following:

  • Four million Iraqis – 15% - regularly cannot buy enough to eat.

  • 70% are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50% in 2003.

  • 28% of children are malnourished, compared to 19% before the 2003 invasion.

  • 92% of Iraqi children suffer learning problems, mostly due to the climate of fear.

Again, all of these points were PRIOR to the current drought and fighting over the past few months.

The situation in Diyala is not only impacted by the weather and lack of rain - it is also a direct result of the occupation creating an environment of sectarian cleansing, as the main pumping station is located between a Sunni and a Shiite district - two districts that have been fighting for the past two years. But the potential solution to this - set up the pumping station away from these districts so it can be supplied directly by the Diyala River isn’t feasible due to the little problem of dead bodies being dumped in the river:

Some farmers have demanded that the pumping station be supplied directly from the Diyala river upstream of the conflict area.

"But this suggestion was rejected because people know that the Diyala river carries the bodies of those killed in the sectarian fighting," said Abdul-Qadir Omran, a now unemployed trader. "It is not good for drinking, and psychologically it is unacceptable."

People of Baquba are used to seeing bodies floating by in the Diyala river, and have long since ceased to use water from the river or fish in it.

Let’s just put aside the fact that this was caused, at least in good part, by the continuing occupation-without-a-clue-or-plan that Mister Bush and his cohorts have championed. And let’s put aside the fact that there will be plenty of really pissed off Iraqis that want to know why the US or the Iraqi government isn’t doing a damn thing about it.

Let’s just look at the crisis that is facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in numerous areas of the country from the fighting, the drought, the lack of water, the lack of electricity and the lack of jobs.

A little more than a year ago, it was reported in Newsweek that an investment of $100 million could restart 75% of the Iraqi state run businesses and put over 150,000 Iraqis back to work. Who knows what that number would be today - but it is certain that (1) it would be much lower than continuing to waste the money that is being wasted there now, and (2) focusing on the humanitarian issues that are facing Iraqis now - ones that we created and ones that we did not create is the only way to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.

It has been very bad for a few years now. It is about to get much MUCH worse. To continue ignoring this large and growing crisis is irresponsible, unethical and immoral.

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