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UN relief agencies express deep concern at reported bombing of Baghdad market

UN relief agencies express deep concern at reported bombing of Baghdad market

United Nations humanitarian organizations expressed deep concern today over reports that an air strike on Baghdad resulted in heavy casualties at a civilian market.

"The civilian population of Iraq has no part in this conflict and must be protected from its consequences at all costs," Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI), said in a statement issued at a briefing in Amman, Jordan. "Attacks on civilian installations are a serious breach of humanitarian international law."

Mr. Lopes da Silva's Office said the emergency room at Abougreb hospital in Baghdad was full, and Premiere Urgence, a French non-governmental organization (NGO) with 60 staff in the city, was extending it by erecting tents for overflow patients. It added that evaluations of Baghdad hospitals by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been slowed down due to heavy bombardments.

Joining in the concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) said civilian injuries inevitably increased the pressure on already-stretched hospitals and other health infrastructure.

WHO also expressed continuing concern over Iraq's second city of Basra, where at least half the civilian population of 1.7 million still lacked access to safe, clean drinking water. Many were also without electricity.

"In these circumstances, it is hard to keep food safe and to maintain hygiene," WHO spokesperson Fadela Chiab said. "Levels of disease - especially among children - will be rising daily. The public health staff who work in WHO are increasingly concerned. Dysentery and typhoid are serious risks, and they will have a serious impact. We have seen such outbreaks in this area in the recent past and are concerned that this situation could worsen rapidly."

She added the WHO team in Baghdad was currently prevented by the security situation from travelling but that as soon as the situation permitted it would move to Basra to assist the local health authorities. WHO teams in neighbouring countries were also ready to assist in responding to any outbreaks of infectious disease.

Declaring that Basra continued to be a major concern, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said a team in Kuwait was planning a road tanker operation with up to 40 vehicles. Fifty-five bladders with a capacity of 5,000 litres have been flown to Kuwait for use in the city and neighbouring areas.

Supplies of drugs for the treatment of up to a 1,000 cases of Blackwater fever had also arrived in Kuwait, UNICEF spokesman Geoffrey Keele added. An outbreak at the beginning of the month claimed more than 75 lives.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had information that the government-run food distribution system was still partially functioning in south and central Iraq, where incomplete rations were still being delivered by food agents.

"This is a good sign, but we are still operating under the assumption that most families who are entirely dependent on monthly food rations would run out of food by the end of April," WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour said. He expressed concern over the sharp rise in food prices in northern Iraq which have risen overall by 18 per cent since 15 March and four-fold in some areas.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that it had delivered a fresh shipment of emergency medical equipment, supplies and medications to the Al-Ruwaished Hospital, near Jordan's border with Iraq, where contingency plans have been made to receive any refugee influx. The supplies were particularly intended to boost the hospital's ability to assist pregnant women and to save the lives of mothers and their babies, UNFPA spokesman Ziad Rifai said.