Friday, December 03, 2004

How Overlooked?

How unconcerned are news organizations with the progress of reconstruction in Iraq?

WASHINGTON - A top foreign aid official said Friday the United States has completed or is working on 7,000 assistance projects in Iraq, efforts that he said largely have been overlooked because of the focus on security problems.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the Agency for International Development, cited as one example U.S. cooperation with the U.N. World Food Program and Iraqi officials to distribute food to the poor.

"You haven't heard anything about food riots from the beginning of this or major food shortages, and I think that's a testament to how well the system has worked," Natsios said.

He said people who were denied rations under deposed President Saddam Hussein because they were politically suspect are back in the distribution system.

"No one has been penalized. Everybody's being fed. And so that has an effect on social equity in the country," Natsios said.

Other target areas for assistance include economic reform, democratization, health care, education and agriculture, he said.

While foreign news media tends to focus on the insurgency in Iraq, "the more mundane work that we do in reconstruction is not covered as well, or as much or at all, in some cases."

How undercovered is it? Well, with all the potential art aspects of this story -- food distribution, schools rebuilt, ports repaired, children immunized -- the best photographic illustration that the AP could find to complement the article was one with this caption: "U.S. military helicopters fly above the heavily protected Green Zone at sunset in Baghdad Friday Dec. 3 2004."

As I've written before, this is not a good news/bad news issue. This -- along with security and the advance of democracy -- is one of the three legs of the U.S. mission in Iraq and one of the things Americans and the world need to get good information on, on a regular basis, to know whether the project is succeeding or not.