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Lutherans Prepare for Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq

Mar 29, 2003 10:17 AM EST

CHICAGO -- With the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq now well underway, Lutherans prepare for a humanitarian crisis in Iraq. As the bombing campaign and ground fighting intensifies, especially in and around Baghdad, Iraq's capital, a humanitarian crisis is emerging there, said the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, director for international communication, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Division for Global Mission.

"The United Nations estimates that several million people, many of them children under five and nursing mothers, may need emergency assistance in the coming months. A prolonged war could result in Iraq's civilians fleeing their homes, seeking refuge in other parts of the country or in neighboring countries," said Ishida.

"The people of Iraq have already suffered from two decades of wars, repression and sanction. The intensity and scope of this war will cause catastrophic damage to government and other public institutions and infrastructure, private sector industries, homes and business. Mass injury and death will seriously strain the capacity of health care systems throughout the region. Due to the long period of international sanctions, the health care system in Iraq is already vulnerable," said Ishida.

The ELCA has issued a "Disaster Gram" requesting contributions to the ELCA International Disaster Response to help with relief efforts necessitated by the war in Iraq. One-hundred percent of the contributions will be designated to Iraqis fleeing the war.

Coordinated by the ELCA Division for Global Mission, International Disaster Response channels its funds through international church organizations and relief agencies. Funds are used to provide food, medicine, drinking water, emergency shelter and other materials for survivors of disasters around the world.

The ELCA is responding through Action by Churches Together (ACT), a worldwide network of churches and related agencies that meets human need through organized emergency response. It is based with the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, both in Geneva, Switzerland.

In a March 4 statement, ACT members said: "Humanitarian impartiality is imperative and paramount. Humanitarian aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.

Humanitarian aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind.

Humanitarian aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone. As such, humanitarian agencies must be given unconditional access to the affected population, the space to work in and maintain the right to take independent positions and actions."

ACT's local partner, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), is providing aid to those affected by the fighting through its network of churches in Iraq, Ishida said. The council, ELCA and other ACT partners will distribute relief supplies for the duration of the war and in its aftermath, he said.

"The overall goal is to enable the most vulnerable among the affected population to cope with life during and after this war," said Ishida. "The MECC aims at sustaining people's lives and reducing their sufferings and distress. Specific objectives include stockpiling basic food commodities, medicine and medical materials for hospitals, secure clean drinking water, provide shelters, bedding, heaters and kitchen utensils, and preventing health hazards and transmission of diseases," he said.

Lutheran World Relief, the overseas relief and development ministry of the ELCA and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has supplies already in place for use in Iraq and Jordan, including $457,000 worth of health kits and school kits and 22,000 quilts, said Ishida.

"Such emergency efforts complement the 'All Our Children' campaign spearheaded by Church World Service, a relief and development agency of U.S. Protestant and Orthodox churches, including the ELCA," Ishida said. Joined by Lutheran World Relief and a handful of other agencies, Church World Service is responding to critical health-care needs of children in Iraq by providing desperately needed antibiotics, anesthesia, IV-solution kits and methods for accessing clean drinking water, he said.

During the last 20 years, the children of Iraq have suffered under internal and external forces such as the Gulf War, sanctions and the protracted Iraqi war with Iran. Estimates on the number of children who have died run from 500,000 to more than 1 million, said Ishida.

By Albert H. Lee
chtoday_editor@chtoday.com