WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is worried about the length of time it is taking to get humanitarian aid delivered to the Iraqi people, especially after U.S. officials from President Bush on down promised massive aid would arrive quickly.
Yesterday the International Red Cross said that 40 percent of the population in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, lacked access to fresh drinking water and described it as a “humanitarian emergency.''
While U.S. soldiers en route to Baghdad have given food and water to individual Iraqi civilians along the way, the large supplies of food, water, and medicine that were promised have been held up by unexpectedly fierce resistance to U.S. forces by Iraqi soldiers and by logistical problems.
“Everything is being done possible to get that humanitarian relief to the people,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. “One of the central focuses of all the military planning was to make certain that humanitarian supplies were able to reach the people of Iraq as quickly as possible.''
Last week Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged Iraqis not to flee but to stay in their homes and await food and medical supplies from the United States.
Mr. Fleischer said that the United States has commitments from other nations to deliver humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people.
Yesterday Mr. Bush asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to do more to help get food and medical supplies into Iraq.
Victoria Clarke, chief Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that getting humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people is a priority. The key, she said, is that the area has to be safe and secure first.
The commitment to supply the Iraqi people with food and medical supplies is “a very, very important one we made quite a long time ago, and [one] we'll follow through on,'' she said. “Huge amounts of food and medicine are on the borders ready to go, with the help of coalition forces,'' as soon as the area is safe, she added.
On Sunday Mr. Bush pledged to have “massive” amounts of food and medicine flowing into Iraq by this morning. “And that's going to be very positive news for a lot of people who have suffered a long time under Saddam Hussein.''
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is promising that despite the agency's differences with the United States on launching the war, the United Nations will do what it can to bring humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people.
Carol Bellamy, head of UNICEF, asked all countries to keep their pledges to help the Iraqi people, noting that an estimated one million Iraqi children under age 5 are malnourished. There is said to be about one month's worth of supplies for about 4,000 institutionalized orphans in Baghdad.
The World Health Organization says it is sending basic health care kits to 750,000 people in Iraq. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is trying to raise $154 million to care for 600,000 refugees for six months.
The U.S. Agency for International Development says that 500,000 metric tons of rice and other food commodities should be available for Iraq, with the first 50,000 tons to be shipped to Iraq in about a month.
In addition, the U.S. government says it is spending $60 million for the World Food Program to help feed Iraqis. The World Food Program says it has 132,000 metric tons of food for Iraq, enough to feed 2.2 million people for four months. Iraq has 20 million people spread over 167,000 square miles.
The United States has made significant improvements in its aid packages since the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, with more food and medicine geared toward Muslims. In the 1991 war, many food packages given to Iraqis had pork products, which are forbidden in the Islamic religion.
Today's Meals Ready to Eat, the troops' standard field rations, are far tastier than they were in 1991 and will last six months in the Iraqi desert.
Current MREs include beef teriyaki, pasta with vegetables, burritos, shrimp jambalaya, and Thai chicken; some include cookies and other sweets. Changing the MREs regularly and adding treats are morale boosters the Pentagon says.