Thursday, March 27, 2003

Today's Humanitarian Relief Update:

Courtesy of the New York Times. Because it is still considered important in the world of print, which is to say the "old world," which is to say not the world in which "Old Europe" no longer matters in the calculi of U.S. foreign-policy planners. Also because it is my hometown paper and its Web site is easy to use. Also because old habits die hard. Also because this is an experiment in media monitoring. Also because I don't know anyone else who is doing it. If you are still reading this, you are *my kind* of reader.

The overview on the front page of March 27's "Nation at War" section notes: "The first delivery of aid to Iraq — five trucks loaded with 20 tons of food and water — crossed the border from Kuwait to the small Iraqi town of Safwan. Residents of the town swarmed over the trucks, which had been sent by the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, grabbing at the boxes, tearing them apart and fighting over the food they contained. The American military drove another convoy of seven supply trucks from Kuwait to the outskirts of Umm Qasr, a southern port city that has seen sustained fighting over the last few days."

By the way, the map on the last page of the section, B16, says *seven* trucks. But that's a mistake. There was *also* a convoy of seven trucks, but that one, the overview says, only made it as far as the port of Umm Qasr.

The story the blurb above links to online, which ran in the real world on page B11, is titled "Food Arrives, but Water Supplies Cause Worry." This piece comes with a photograph of "crowds in Safwan . . . [fighting] over boxes of food and water brought by the Kuwaiti Red Crescent."

(I visited the Kuwaiti Red Crescent's Web site to see what the aid packages consisted of. And you know, I don't mean to sound suspicious, but the Kuwaiti Red Crescent site, as you can tell from the URL, is physically part of the site of -- not just linked to -- the Palestine Red Crescent Society . Anyway, the only info on the Kuwaiti site is about the aid parcels for Palestinians in Hebron. And that's a whole 'nother bag of onions.)

Anyway, U.N. officials, the Times' Marc Santora writes out of Kuwait, say the U.N. will be asking for "more than $2 billion for assistance later this week." President Bush, too, Santora notes, asked for $2.4 billion for aid and reconstruction in his budget proposal to Congress.

On the ground in Iraq, Santora continues, "The most immediate concern remains the water shortage in Basra, Iraq's second largest city and home to 1.5 million people.

"The city's main water treatment plant stopped working last Friday when power was knocked out. It remains unclear what caused the damage. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been working to repair the facility, but it remains severely damaged, working at about 50 percent capacity."

Santara writes that there are "reports that the people in Basra are so desperate that they have begun drinking out of the rivers. Around 500,000 tons of raw sewage is dumped into Iraqi waterways every day, according to the United Nations. When allied bombing during the first Gulf war knocked out power in large sections of the country for months, the lack of clean water led to an outbreak of cholera."

In Safwan, a town of 5,000 people, "the Kuwaitis were met with swarming masses of people grabbing at boxes and tearing them apart, fighting each other for anything they could grab. While accepting the food, they expressed disdain for those who brought it, chanting that they would bleed for Saddam Hussein."

Another aid convoy, this one of seven trucks from the U.S. military, according to Santora only made it as far as the port of Umm Qasr before being put into storage. And a ship with relief supplies from the U.K. was slated to arrive in the same port today.