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Church relief convoy delivers items to Iraq

5/8/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By Guy Hovey*

BAGHDAD, Iraq (UMNS) - The threat of being hijacked along the highway to Baghdad is a concern shared by many people and one of the dangers the Middle East Council of Churches convoy faced as it traveled from Jordan to Iraq's capital in early May to deliver much needed relief items.

The convoy of six trucks, driven by local Iraqis, was loaded with 250 winter tents, 19,200 cans of meat, 1,000 food packets consisting of oil, tea, beans, sugar, rice and detergents, 6,380 blankets, 2.2 tons of BP5 high-protein biscuits and a 40-foot container of medicines.

Several members of the Action by Churches Together - Norwegian Church Aid, International Christian Orthodox Charities, Church World Service - donated the relief items. The medicines, immediately delivered to hospitals in the area, were donated by Diakonie Austria, another ACT member.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, a member of ACT, is working in Iraq through those and other ecumenical partners.

MECC coordinator Edmond Adam said the items were brought in for a pre-positioned emergency stockpile because of fear that current rations - distributed to people by the old Iraqi regime under the oil for food program - will run out by midyear.

At that point, people could start experiencing severe food shortages. "The outlook is bleak if people don't start earning salaries soon enabling them to buy food," Adam explained. The stockpile is at the Old Ancient Church of the East in Baghdad.

The MECC stockpile is enough for 1,000 families in Baghdad and Mosul, but Adam is realistic about how far the supplies will stretch and noted that "millions of families could be without adequate food in a couple of months."

His view was reinforced by ACT Regional Coordinator Eszter Németh, who added that "as the food for oil scheme was administered by the Iraqi Ministry of Trade, the distribution system is no longer in place."

It would appear that Iraq is heading for a classic "cash famine," as families are unable to buy available food due to a shortage of work, cash and rising prices. Already, a kilo of apples can cost a month's salary, she said.

One problem is that government work places have been destroyed. "The coalition says that people should return to work, but how can they when their places of work have been destroyed or looted? There's nothing to go back to," Adam said.

There are also worries about possible outbreaks of disease, as already inadequate water supplies have been potentially contaminated by untreated sewage from broken-down treatment plants. Adam believes that water-born diseases could pose a threat this summer, "although reports from the north of the country say that current disease levels are not above the norm."

Németh advocates for flexible and rapid funding from ACT donors. "What is needed is the ability to be able to react immediately when a crisis is identified," she explained.

United Methodists can help through donations to UMCOR, earmarked for the Iraq Emergency Advance No. 623225-4. Checks may be dropped in local church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

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*Hovey works for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and is a credentialed correspondent for United Methodist News Service in the Middle East.

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