Relaymedia

Religious Relief Groups Aid Iraqi Families

Jan 13, 2003 01:23 PM EST

Continuing a long-time commitment to relief work in Iraq, Church World Service and several other religious organizations have set up a $1 million campaign to improve health care for Iraqi children.

The "All My Children" campaign will use the money raised to purchase antibiotics, anesthesia, IV solution kits and items related to providing clean drinking water.

CWS, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches, is led by the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor. Along with the Mennonite Central Committee, it has participated in humanitarian work in Iraq for the past decade. CWS has provided more than $3 million in blankets, food, medical supplies, school kits and health kits for families and children there since 1991. The Mennonites have shipped about $4.2 million worth of food and material assistance during that period.

The new appeal "is probably a broader ecumenical effort than what we are typically dealing with," said Rick Augsburger, CWS director of emergency response, in a Jan. 8 interview. "It's a unique grouping of faith-based efforts that are trying to work together to provide this support."

Other initial campaign partners are Stop Hunger Now, Sojourners and Jubilee Partners.

Augsburger, who will travel to Amman, Jordan, in late January to help coordinate the response, said he expects the raising of campaign resources and establishing the program to be a long-term process, especially since a permit is being requested from the Office of Foreign Asset Control, a part of the U.S. State Department.

Licensing is necessary because of the trade sanctions imposed on Iraq since 1990. The Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist pastor and founder of Stop Hunger Now, and other members of a recent National Council of Churches-sponsored delegation to Iraq witnessed some of the long-term effects of those sanctions during visits to hospitals and schools and realized the threats a war with the United States might hold.

Buchanan said he was heartened to learn from UNICEF staff based in Iraq that malnutrition had leveled off because the government's food distribution network, bolstered by the U.N.'s humanitarian "oil for food" program, was providing 2,200 calories a day to the citizens.

What he found frightening, he said, was that "70 to 80 percent of the Iraqi population is totally, 100 percent, dependent on these food rations. In case of war, the infrastructure of this food distribution would be destroyed within the first few days or first week."

The health care situation is "abysmal," he added, because "dual use" rules under the sanctions cover many items and have resulted in Iraq being unable to obtain certain medicines, unable to repair equipment and even unable to receive medical journals. Those rules prohibit supplying Iraq with items that could have a military use.

"As far as I'm concerned, the sanctions are nothing more than sanctioned torture," Buchanan said. "That is horrible when you say it, but when you have to watch infants dying in incubators that just need parts ... if that's not torture, I don't know what is."

The United Nations attributes the deaths of at least several hundred thousand Iraqi children to the effects of the trade sanctions, the National Council of Churches has noted.

Besides participating in the "All My Children" campaign, Stop Hunger Now will work on emergency food relief for Iraqi families. While there, Buchanan set up working relationships with the Islamic Relief Association, which he said had a long, credible history as a humanitarian agency, and with the relief arm of the Middle East Council of Churches. The Islamic group has warehouses in Baghdad, and the Christian council is putting supplies together in Jordan, where Iraqi refugees would be likely to come.

More information can be found at www.churchworldservice.org and www.stophungernow.org on the Internet.

By Albert H. Lee
[email protected]