Journalists with advancing troops have already reported seeing Iraqis in the roads begging for food. Some military aid has been distributed, but because of wartime dangers only small shipments from aid agencies have made it into Iraq behind the U.S. and British military.
On Friday, the U.N. Children's Fund sent a six-truck convoy to the outskirts of Basra with desperately needed water, the farthest UNICEF's water supplies have reached into southern Iraq.
In northern Iraq, a 19-truck convoy carrying 500 tons of wheat flour from the U.N. World Food Program was scheduled to cross from Turkey on Friday. Although no food emergencies are reported in the Kurdish-populated north, food warehouses are empty or nearly so, WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour said in Amman.
Because of the U.S. bombing of Baghdad's telecommunications facilities, only sketchy reports were emerging on the numbers of people fleeing the threatened Iraqi capital.
About 10,000 were reported to have fled Baghdad for the Badrah area, near Iran 90 miles to the east, said David Wimhurst of the U.N. office for Iraq. East of Amarah, 130 miles to the southeast, about 30,000 displaced people had gathered near the Iranian border, he said.
"The situation inside Iraq is getting more critical every day," Wimhurst said in Amman.
Almost no Iraqis have fled into neighboring countries to escape the 15-day-old invasion, but aid officials know that large, if uncounted, numbers have traveled from threatened areas to others they hope are safer — most moving in with relatives, or into schools or other public buildings.
More than 40 representatives of U.N. and non-governmental aid agencies ended two days of meetings in Amman on Friday to plan the feeding, sheltering and medical care for these internally displaced Iraqis.
The oversight agency, the International Organization for Migration, has based its planning on a projection of 2 million displaced Iraqis, said Chris Petch, IOM's program manager. That doesn't count millions of Iraqis classified as "vulnerable" — still at home but in need of food or other assistance.
The U.N. agencies have appealed to governments for $2.2 billion for their huge postwar humanitarian aid program. Two weeks into the war, however, much remains unclear about lines of responsibility and coordination among the U.S.-British invasion force, the United Nations and private agencies.
International agencies don't want to be closely associated with a military occupation force, and the U.S. and British military want to be seen as benefactors of ordinary Iraqis. Food distribution is a prime example.
Under U.N. economic sanctions, Baghdad since 1996 had exported oil and bought food and other humanitarian goods, under close U.N. supervision. The food was distributed through 43,000 authorized agents to almost all Iraqis. Sixty percent depended totally on the monthly rations.
In one captured southern town, the port of Umm Qasr, many of those food agents have now "disappeared," U.N. officials report, apparently because they were linked to the ruling Baath Party.
This may happen nationwide. "Essentially you had the entire country as a welfare state, under the U.N., and that has been switched off," Petch said.
The World Food Program had hoped to find the rationing system largely intact for postwar distribution. Although it has contingency plans involving what the WFP's Mansour called other, "trained" Iraqis, such plans may run up against the military.
The British force has already established its own new 85-district food-distribution scheme in Umm Qasr, U.N. officials report.