Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Emergency aid in Iraq

Emergency aid in Iraq


After the soldiers, this week it was the turn of the containers with
emergency relief to arrive in Iraq. The Pentagon is encouraging extensive
media coverage of this side, showing soldiers distributing food and water
to Iraqi children. Is this well-meant aid for a beleaguered population or a
propaganda effort to help sell the war effort? Thea Hilhorst, a researcher
in disaster studies within the Rural Sociology group at Wageningen
University, visited Iraq last year to evaluate emergency aid given after
the first gulf war.

“I’m appalled at what is happening now. The whole raison d’être for
humanitarian aid is being undermined. The aid now takes on a whole new
meaning which it should not have. The Americans are doing it to win the
hearts of the people. They might as well have shared out balloons, CDs or
flags with a photo of Bush, but they have chosen to use aid for their
propaganda.

Giving aid in this way makes it no longer a neutral act. It’s the soldiers
who are handing out the parcels, not the NGOs. You run the danger that the
aid will be seen as a part of the propaganda machine. This could lead to a
situation where Saddam Hussein denies all aid organisations access to the
population, because all aid workers will be regarded as accomplices of the
enemy. The same danger may then threaten future conflicts, wherever they
occur. Relief aid must always be neutral, given for humanitarian reasons to
alleviate suffering, and not to win people over for a particular cause.

Apart from this, there’s also the issue that the American military is being
very unprofessional in how it goes about distributing the aid goods. They
just put a container down somewhere and throw the boxes out. This way of
course the help does not reach the people who really need it. I also doubt
whether at this moment the people are really in need of food. The Iraqis
are not stupid. They saw that war was coming and also made sure they had
supplies. Drinking water is definitely needed, but I’m not so sure about
food.

The worst is that Bush can only sell his war by pointing to the
humanitarian aid he’s giving. He can hardly say, ‘we’re attacking Iraq, and
the people will have to see to it themselves that they survive. The aid
organisations are faced with a terrible dilemma. If there’s a need you have
to provide relief, but by doing so you are legitimating the war. This makes
it very difficult to say what aid agencies should do. The relief and
development organisation Care International has tried to resolve the
dilemma by saying ‘we are not accepting money from America, England and
Australia’. Of course this sends out a very clear signal within the
organisation, but it still leaves the question whether this is clear to the
Iraqi population.

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