Editorial: Deliberately contributing to disaster
Nine weeks after the end of the Gulf War, the Australian government has decided to send HMAS Darwin back to the region to help maintain the USA's blockade of Iraq. While bans on some foodstuffs have been lifted, the US is still barring oil exports essential to Iraq's economic recovery.
Those in doubt as to what this might mean for Iraqis would be well advised to consult a recent United Nations report on postwar Iraq. After visiting the country from March 10-17, representatives of the UN Secretariat, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the UN Development Program, the Disaster Relief Office, High Commission for Refugees and Food and Agriculture Organisation produced a report predicting "imminent catastrophe".
After extensive field work, including access to most areas, with representatives of government and non-government organisations, the UN officials reported: "Nothing had quite prepared us for the devastation which has now befallen the country. The near-apocalyptic results [of war] have relegated Iraq to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on intensive use of energy and technology."
The UN team found most sources of fuel and power defunct, and sanctions had reduced food, medical and agricultural supplies to critically low levels. The Baghdad water supply was operating at 10% of its previous capacity, and some of the available supply was drawn from sewage-polluted sources. Water testing and purification were impossible in many areas.
The quality and quantity of food rations were deteriorating, and private market prices had skyrocketed. Communications and transport systems were in ruins. With the Iraqi summer imminent, a serious escalation of water, food, sanitation and health problems was expected.
Even if it had been possible to quickly overcome these immediate problems, Iraq faced enormous tasks of reconstruction. Impending crop failure and industrial collapse threatened to cripple the country indefinitely. Ironically, the UN delegation also pointed out that humanitarian work might not be possible without oil and other energy imports.
"It is unmistakable that the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe ... if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met. The long summer is only weeks away. Time is short", the report concluded.
Little has changed in the few weeks since this report was released, yet the Australian government has decided to renew its participation in the infamous US blockade. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Hawke government is deliberately seeking to inflict a new catastrophe on the people of Iraq.