THOUSANDS of people displaced by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the threat of expanded war are huddled in the Jordanian desert, exposed to the elements and in need of food and water. This situation is just beginning to draw the international attention it deserves. Aid should be quickly increased, with the United States and other Western nations bolstering the relief efforts of UN agencies on the scene.
The refugee crisis in Jordan is but the latest example of the widening human toll taken by armed conflict - even before bullets start flying. Wage earners who supported far-flung family members are suddenly thrown into utter dependency. Millions have fled across borders to find frail refuge in camps maintained by international organizations. Other Millions have a tenuous existence as displaced people within their own countries.
The latter, in places like Afghanistan, Guatemala, and southern Africa, lack even the bare necessities supplied by UN refugee relief programs. As chronicled in a just-ended Monitor series on the internally displaced, these drifting populations are cut off from the communal support of villages and extended families. They are often forced into cities where services are overwhelmed. And they often become pawns in a vicious political/military battle, as in Guatemala's highlands where soldiers and rebels compete for peasants' hearts.
The problem's scale is boggling. One-third of Mozambique's 15 million people, for example, have been dislodged from their homes and livelihoods by that country's decade and a half of civil war. How can the world respond to such suffering, beyond abhorring it and turning away in helplessness?
But these dire situations, like others confronting humanity, can yield to determined efforts to break through animosity, ignorance, and cynicism. Of first importance, international peacemaking can't be allowed to flag. The conflicts in Angola and Afghanistan are less intense since the exit of the South Africans, Cubans, and Soviets, but their human devastation continues. Principled negotiation remains a better course than war in these places, and in the Persian Gulf.
In October, the UN will launch a new office to coordinate efforts to aid internal refugees. And the Organization of African Unity has called for heightened programs to help the displaced. The good will and decency of nations and individuals demands that such first steps be diligently followed through.