Before the Refugee Dam Breaks

"Agencies prepare to help up to 900,000 people in Iraq War"

Thick black smoke hangs over Baghdad. It wafts into homes through windows left open to guard against shattering amid the frequent bombings.

Dominican priest Yousif Touma lives in Iraq's sprawling capital. An active distributor of Scripture to the country's Christian minority, Touma said many children are wailing in fear with their huddled families.

"We are afraid that the war will be long," Touma said. "We are not afraid for our property. We are afraid for our lives."

With bombs pounding mostly military targets in Baghdad 15 hours a day, and a humanitarian disaster looming in the rest of the country, Iraqi Christians and international relief agency officials fear that bottled-up aid may be too little, too late for thousands. More than 500,000 Iraqi children were malnourished even before the war, partly due to United Nations sanctions against the regime for its weapons programs.

"Many people will be in need because our country is weak after 13 years of sanctions," Touma told Christianity Today. "We want Christians to pray and make sure that nongovernmental organizations can bring supplies all over the country."

On the ground

So far, battlefield obstacles have hampered relief efforts. The United States Agency for International Development assembled a rapid-response team, pre-positioned food and supplies, and worked with private humanitarian groups on a coordinated response.

In March the agency released 600,000 tons of wheat, enough to feed Iraq's 22 million people for six weeks. The problem is getting it to hungry people. USAID estimates that the country's current annual grain production of 2 million metric tons is less than half of what is required to meet minimum nutritional needs.

For now, few Christian relief organizations are ...

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