In its early stages, the air war against Iraq has not unleashed a flood of refugees fleeing the fighting, although unspecified numbers of Iraqi civilians reportedly are streaming toward Iran, the closest border to Baghdad, the Iraqi capital hit by aircraft as the conflict began.

But as the war intensifies, and especially when ground fighting takes place, the number of refugees could become a flood headed for neighboring Jordan, which is ill-equipped to handle the influx.Jordan was invaded by an estimated 600,000 refugees last summer when Iraq first marched into Kuwait. The Jordanians had a difficult time coping and closed the border for a time. Fearing another flood of refugees as war neared, Jordan once again closed its border with Iraq nine days ago.

That decision has now been reversed and Jordan says it will accept all refugees despite a lack of international relief aid. More than 1,000, mostly Egyptians from Iraq, entered the country after the first day of fighting.

Officials in Amman, the capital of Jordan, say the nation could handle only 40,000 refugees, yet there is talk of possibly 10 times that many. If that proves to be true, thousands could die in the desert because of a lack of food and water. Jordanian airspace is closed because of the war and that would make any evacuation of refugees nearly impossible, meaning they would have to be fed and housed for perhaps weeks.

Yet Jordan only has a six-month supply of food and medicine for its own 4 million population and there is poverty among some Jordanians. During the influx of refugees after the Iraqi invasion last August, Jordan was the only nation to accept refugees and spent $60 million helping them. The international community contributed only $6 million to help defray those expenses. The country's food reserves were depleted.

But refugees, the flotsam and jetsam of any war, are innocent victims whose basic needs for survival must be met. Large-scale help may be difficult to supply, but good-faith efforts should be made through the U.N. to supply Jordan with the means to deal with any major refugee problem.