For the moment, the roar of the air strikes overshadows the humanitarian issues in the Gulf, but as TV cameras begin to focus on casualties, the international public will begin to ask what is being done for the wounded, the hungry and the homeless, both for refugees fleeing to Iraq's borders and for those displaced inside.
The allies will win the war, but they must also demonstrate that they can win the peace by placing a high priority on caring for those who are injured and displaced. It will be important to show as much vigor in addressing the humanitarian consequences of the conflict as in prosecuting the war. U.S. leadership in moving the United Nations ahead in this area should be just as dynamic as it has been in crafting the alliance and mounting Desert Storm. If it is not, the victory may be seen as hollow.
The sanctions were imposed in the name of the U.N.; the use of military force to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Kuwait is being done in its name. By extension, it stands to reason that the U.N. faces a particular challenge and responsibility to care for innocent Iraqi citizens and foreign guest workers whose lives are being disrupted by the hostilities.
The U.N. has done a good job so far. By Jan. 15, it had put a plan in place to accommodate 400,000 refugees. U.N. organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration, are working hard in a coordinated fashion to be ready for the time when refugees begin to arrive. Donor governments have contributed over $70 million to this appeal.
Despite the lack of information at the moment, there are a number of urgent humanitarian/refugee actions that should be taken:
First, we need from U.S. and foreign sources, especially from U.S. Central Command, better reporting on the humanitarian and refugee dimensions of the war. There will be a natural temptation to avoid coming to grips with this information, but that will eventually backfire when the response of relief agencies is rendered less effective because of the lack of information. It is clear that the international and non-government agencies are operating with little information from the U.S. government.
The relief agencies appear to have the major elements in place to care for refugees and the displaced. In contrast to the evacuees of last summer, it will be important to have shelter and blankets, because the weather this time of year is cold. It will also be important to have adequate medical and surgical capacity to treat the refugees, the latter in case there are casualties among the refugees. The relief agencies need additional and continuing help from U.S. and NATO aircraft in moving aid supplies to the Gulf area.
Given that the flow of the displaced is not yet large, perhaps the new strategy for the international organizations should be to make ready assistance plans that could be deployed in Iraq at the appropriate time, rather than waiting for people to come out to the border areas. Any time people can be cared for in place or in their country, it is preferable to displacement.
I presume that U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar has assembled a group around him to do the contingency plans necessary to respond immediately inside Iraq when hostilities cease. If not, he should begin immediately.
To assist civilians in place and dampen displacement, the provision of potable water will be a critical factor. It is not clear how well the international organizations are prepared on this front.
There is a second humanitarian challenge posed by the Gulf war -- not losing sight of the other urgent problems around the world. For example, in Mogadishu, Somalia, civil strife has taken a substantial number of civilian lives. There are now signs that the struggle will subside, but the U.N. and the United States have not been sufficiently active in seeking a cease-fire.
In the new world order, civil wars such as those in Liberia and Somalia cannot simply be left to burn themselves out. In such instances, the United Nations and/or other Security Council members should ask the secretary general to use his good offices to mediate a settlement or appoint a special representative. The secretary general should be more active in mobilizing diplomatic, relief and development responses to international emergencies.
There will also be the problem of resources for the humanitarian agenda in the Gulf and beyond. Even though these costs will be a fraction of the military expenditures, resources will be difficult to come by. The U.S. Food for Peace budget -- which is a life-line for refugees, civil war and famine victims -- operates for a year on what is expended in one day of Operation Desert Storm. The entire U.S. Refugee Program budget for a year is less than it costs for one day of the war.
The international community will have to be more generous and the U.N. more effective in its fund-raising. The U.N. should also mobilize other resources. A U.N. version of the Peace Corps might be deployed to provide relief and rehabilitation in Iraq and in other war-torn areas such as Liberia.
Much has been said about the new world order taking shape in the wake of the Cold War. With the Gulf action, the first hurdle has been passed in engaging the U.N. to take collective security measures in the Gulf. We now need U.N. leadership to craft the innovative humanitarian (and environmental) responses in this new world order, with enthusiastic and effective support from the United States and the international community.
The writer is executive director of the Washington-based Refugees International.