Saturday, June 16, 2007

The unseen tragedy in Iraq

The humanitarian crisis (.pdf) that many of us cautioned against before the American led invasion in March 2003 has come to pass.

It is to be expected, really, when two million people are internally displaced. Shanty towns are springing up in Iraq, now numbering in the scores.

Many displaced Iraqi’s, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, are finding their way to various makeshift tent cities that are springing up from Ninevah in the north to Najaf in the south. These shanty towns lack even the basics – potable water, sanitation, proper shelter. Food is scarce and medial care is non-existent. In the Iraqi summer, these displaced people are dealing with 120 degree temperatures, in addition to the scorpions, snakes, mosquitoes and leishmaniasis-carrying sand flies. People with literally only the clothes on their backs are experiencing skin rashes and lesions in addition to the typhoid and diarrhea that are always endemic in such situations.

History tells us that such environs foster disease, crime, and militant demeanor.

Andrew Harper, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Iraq Support unit is concerned. “What we do know is that Iraqis hate living in camps and the fact that we are now seeing these types of camps being established is a very bad sign that other options are no longer available.”


On Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it has launched an $85 million appeal for internally displaced Iraqis and those enduring food shortages.

"If people cannot get help with shelter, food, water, health care or even ways of earning a living to pay for these things because everyone is in a desperate struggle to survive, people will feel they have no choice but to flee Iraq. The situation cannot continue like this. We can and must help them," says Rafiq Tschannen, IOM's chief of mission in Iraq.

The Congress needs to address this burgeoning humanitarian crisis – the largest displacement in the Middle East since 1948. It is simply not possible to underestimate this catastrophe and the impact it will have on the internal security of neighboring countries, nor is it possible to underestimate the human suffering that is a direct result of George Bush’s splendid Iraqi adventure.

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