Federal aid workers ready to help Iraqis after attack

As U.S. troops move toward the Iraqi border, the U.S. Agency for International Development is moving civilian disaster relief workers into the region so that they will be ready to conduct humanitarian missions during and after the war.

By Thursday, about three dozen volunteer relief workers from federal agencies will arrive at stations in Kuwait, Jordan and Amman, according to Ellen Yount, an AID spokeswoman. The workers will coordinate closely with the military, trailing behind troops to provide Iraqis with food, water and other necessities as soon as it is safe to do so.

These relief specialists are part of a 62-member Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) that AID pulled together to work in Iraq. This team is unusually large compared with the average five- to ten-member relief crews AID dispatches, and will include members from the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Bernd McConnell, director of AID's Office of Foreign Disaster, at a recent press briefing.

Other team members will join those leaving for the Persian Gulf Thursday when the war is under way and AID has assessed whether they are needed and studied security, Yount said.

"If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you," President Bush told Iraqis in a Monday night address to the nation. "As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need."

DART stands ready to deliver that aid. Working out of a central command center in Kuwait City and three field offices, team members will focus on giving Iraqis adequate health care, shelter, food and water in the days following a U.S. attack. AID has arranged for contractors to undertake longer-term projects such as infrastructure repair.

"We're the band-aid guys," McConnell said. "When we talk about shelter, we're talking about plastic sheeting; we're not talking about rebuilding buildings."

In warehouses around the world, including those in Kuwait and Jordan, AID has stored enough supplies for roughly 1 million people, according to McConnell. The supplies include blankets, plastic sheets, water purification filters, personal hygiene kits and World Health Organization medical kits. Team leaders will be authorized to spend money in the field, without first asking supervisors back in Washington, making it easier for them to move supplies rapidly.

DART will work closely with the military, but ultimately the team reports directly to the Agency for International Development, said Andrew Natsios, the agency's administrator, at the press briefing. In addition, the team will coordinate with nongovernmental organizations, United Nations workers and other aid groups that will flood the region, he said.

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