News & Politics

The Humanitarian Aid Crisis


For all his bluster, Bush has spent less than $1 million on humanitarian aid for the people being bombarded in Iraq. In fact, the administration has gone out of its way to delay or outright block aid groups from getting into Iraq. And it has pointedly banned American specialists (like doctors and technicians) from going in.

Instead of allowing these experienced groups to get to work, Bush insists they must go through the military, which in turn, won’t tell them its plans because they are classified. “We’ve been asking for more than six months for access,” Sandra Mitchell, vice president of government relations at the International Rescue Committee, told the Voice. Added to the military secrecy is the continuing red tape by U.S. agencies administering export laws that ban anything with a “dual purpose.”

“It’s a lot of red tape, licenses, and review processes,” Mitchell said. “There’s no way you can coordinate a fast-moving humanitarian response with those kinds of limitations in place.” By contrast, the group quickly negotiated the red tape to get into Kashmir over the summer. She said the group has had “high-level discussions” with the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (the U.S. Treasury division that enforces economic and trade sanctions). But she adds, “We weren’t successful. Their response was to point the finger at each other. It was just passing it on, passing it on.”

The small amounts of money made available by the U.S. government barely cover logistical costs, said Mitchell, adding, “There’s no way there’s any funding left to buy resources, shelter, food, medicine, water, sanitation equipment, or emergency equipment; $900,000 doesn’t get you very far when you’re trying to set up an operation.”

Rudy von Bernuth, a vice president at Save the Children U.S.A., said the group has received a small planning grant, allowing it to set up a small headquarters in Jordan. But the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control won’t approve licenses to allow skilled U.S. citizens to enter the area.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John, Joanna Khenkine, and Mosi Secret

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 25, 2003

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