Monday, April 14, 2003

Aid finally made its way back onto the front page of the New York Times on Saturday, April 12, with Jane Perlez in Kuwait writing a story titled "Aid Groups Urging Military to Protect Essential Services." Here it is in full:

"The Bush administration's plan to pour large amounts of food and medical supplies into Iraq quickly appeared in danger of breaking down today as aid agencies took the unusual step of appealing to the military for help.

"In an urgent appeal from its Geneva headquarters, the International Committee of the Red Cross called on American troops to protect hospitals and water supplies in Baghdad. The agency, which usually refrains from asking for military assistance, said that to comply with the obligations of an occupying power the United States must direct its military to stop the looting of essential public utilities.

"The medical system in the capital had 'virtually collapsed,' the committee said in its statement [issued April 11, the day this article was written]. Of the 40 hospitals in the city, 39 had been looted or closed.

"The Red Cross, the only international relief organization functioning in Baghdad this week, said its aid workers were able to venture outside their offices for only a limited time today.

"Workers from other experienced aid organizations were not prepared to cross into Iraq because the situation there was considered so dangerous.

"In neighboring Kuwait and Jordan, nearly 50 specialists assembled by the United States Agency for International Development to help with emergency aid were left stranded with little to do. In a hotel lobby here, some of the specialists who have been waiting to go into Iraq for several weeks watched with embarrassment as images of the deteriorating hospital conditions in Baghdad flickered on television screens.

"Medical supplies and food that were supposed to go into Iraq immediately after the military made its way to Baghdad remain stacked in warehouses in both Kuwait and Jordan. Fleets of trucks to transport the supplies stood idle.

"The man designated by the United State to run Iraq temporarily, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who is retired, set foot in the country for the first time today on his new assignment, but went only as far as Umm Qasr. It was not safe for him to go further north to Basra, the second-biggest city in Iraq, his aides said.

"The poor security was summarized at a briefing of the Humanitarian Operations Center in Kuwait, where the American military works with nongovernmental organizations to coordinate their efforts in Iraq.

"On Thursday, the military gave three categories of security in Iraq: permissive, uncertain and hostile. Only a small southern sector of the map as far as the town of Zubayr, on the outskirts of Basra, was marked as safe enough for aid workers. The situation remained unchanged today, officials said.

"Much of the immediate assistance planned by USAID for Iraq is to be delivered by major American nongovernmental organizations such as CARE, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Save the Children. But security was so poor that none of the agencies was operating in Iraq outside of Umm Qasr, the town just over the border from Kuwait, a senior USAID official said.

"In another sign of conditions in Iraq, USAID said a World Health Organization stock of medical supplies for treating 10,000 people for three months was stolen soon after the American military unit left it at a hospital in a city on the way to Baghdad.

" 'We are not giving any more kits to the military just so they can be looted,' the official said. About 100 more similar sets of supplies had been prepared for Iraq in neighboring countries but were currently being held back, the official said.

"In a press briefing today, spokesman Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said that he had been told by the head of USAID, Andrew S.Natsios, that there was not a widespread aid crisis in Iraq. There were 'pockets' of problems, Mr. Fleischer added. But, he said, President Bush viewed the aid effort as a 'key part of the mission.'

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gave a less grim picture of the situation in Baghdad at a Pentagon press briefing today. 'There is no question but there is a hospital that was looted,' he said, adding that the Baath Party put its headquarters in hospitals all over the country.

"He said the American military was working to stop the looting, which he called the 'untidy' outcome of people feeling the first taste of freedom.

"Peter Bell of the American aid agency Care, which receives funds from the United States government for its work in Iraq, joined the ICRC in appealing to the American military to protect the hospitals. A senior worker for the agency visited Baghdad this week, but only for a security assessment, he said.

"Meeting in St. Petersburg today, the leaders of Russia, Germany and France noted that the Geneva Convention binds American and British forces to protect Iraqi civilians and ensure their humane treatment until order is restored.

"Administration officials have said frequently that they had wanted to quickly demonstrate their good faith by assisting the Iraqi people in the immediate aftermath of the war. These officials knew, they said, that in most circumstances aid deliveries had more to do with winning the support of a suspicious population than alleviating a chronic need.

"But with the uncertain security situation in Baghdad, there was concern that it would be hard to harness the support of the people there. 'I think they are going to find it hard to put the cap back,' said Kenneth Bacon, the president of Refugees International.

"Mr. Bacon said the Bush administration had little choice but to instruct the military to create some kind of order. In particular, he said, the military should create zones of security around hospitals and water points.

"The top official of the Red Cross in Baghdad, Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, called the situation there 'anarchy.'

"At the 650-bed Medical City, Red Cross workers found few people. 'Operating theaters are no longer functioning. There are no more instruments, in any case,' a spokeswoman, Nada Doumani, said. Most staff members had stayed at home to protect their own property from looters.

"Al Kindi Hospital was attacked by armed looters on Thursday and stripped of everything from beds to medical equipment to drugs, Red Cross officials said. Today, the hospital was empty, Ms. Doumani said.

"In Basra, the International Committee for the Red Cross said it had appealed to the British to impose a curfew as a way of halting looting.

"The agency, which has been in Iraq during the past decade, was able to help British soldiers in Basra to find civil servants, many of whom were in hiding, so that they could resume essential services, Mr. Kuhn said. 'We linked the British with the remaining water engineers; we knew the water engineers, they didn't,' he said.

"Similarly, the Red Cross found electrical, sewage and medical personnel and urged them to return to their stations. 'We're tying to find some police,' Mr. Kuhn said.

"At the Humanitarian Operations Center, a spokesman said more than 100 aid missions had been dispatched into Iraq since the center was set up. But the spokesman, Maj. Chris Hughes, said that most of the missions were to assess security and that most of the aid that had been sent over the border was provided by Kuwait."


The above story was accompanied by a photo on page B8 with the following caption:

"Iraqis lined up for bottled water as it was being distributed in the villages of southern Iraq. Relief agencies said anarchy threatened their efforts."

FYI, for those with curious minds: The carton of water pictured in the photo says "Berain Bottled Drinking Water" on it. A quick Googling of "Berain" yielded this link, which reveals that Berain is the "leading bottled water distributor in Saudi Arabia."