We were picked up by CARE staff at the airport and allowed to depart after being registered and photographed by US Army personnel. It was eerie to drive down the deserted road from the airport to Baghdad that had become so familiar because of the news coverage with tanks, armed soldiers and the charred remains of war vehicles and burned brush.
Our main activity for our first day was to attend a security briefing at the CARE office. It was very sobering. We were issued flak jackets to wear throughout our time in Baghdad and warned to be on the lookout for mines and snipers. Later that evening we attended an informal meeting of representatives from NGOs from Europe, North America and Asia that have created a group to meet and share information about their activities. The room included veterans from many emergencies, as well as a number of young people in their twenties who had come to Iraq to contribute their time and effort in rebuilding the country and helping the people.
Humanitarian relief organizations are seriously challenged to deliver relief. Given the absence of security, relief workers can only contribute about 50% of their typical productivity. They have no telephone access and the absence of communications hampers safety efforts. Even satellite phones, often critical to relief operations, are not working away from their docking stations, and we were warned that using them in open space could make
one and easy target of an attack. Effectiveness of relief delivery has been affected by the need to travel in convoys and observe curfews. It is complicated to get to and from work; one must travel in convoy and be back by sundown.
It became clear right away that CARE staff put their lives on the line to provide humanitarian relief in Iraq. We heard that two weeks earlier two CARE staff members were stopped on the road and their vehicles stolen. One of them was even shot at and sustained an injury to his leg. Since then, cars have been painted a hideous yellow-green with the CARE logos prominently displayed on the sides and the roof to make them less desirable.