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UN relief agencies warn of soaring heat and water shortages in Iraq

UN relief agencies warn of soaring heat and water shortages in Iraq

As United Nations relief agencies struggled to move more humanitarian aid into Iraq, stifling heat amid a continuing water shortage emerged today as a new threat to the health of the civilian population, especially children.

"It is interesting and important to note that the temperature on the border between Kuwait and Iraq today is a stifling 37 degrees - 99 degrees Fahrenheit," Geoffrey Keele, spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities.

"In weather like this, the need for water, already acute in several places, becomes more and more urgent. Dehydration among young children is a concern. Access to safe water also remains a concern, and grows, as the temperature increases."

Mr. Keele noted that three tankers, under contract to UNICEF from private companies and carrying almost 100,000 litres of water, managed yesterday to make their way safely to Um Qasr in southern Iraq across the border from Kuwait. Deliveries were made to local hospitals and health centres - making sure that supplies went to those who needed them most.

There was now a limited supply of water and electricity serving different parts of Basra, Iraq's second city to the north of Um Qasr, where the 1.7 million residents have been hard pressed for both since the early days of fighting, said Veronique Taveau, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (OHCI).

At the Wafa’ Al-Qaed pumping station outside the city, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local technicians were trying to connect the three remaining back-up generators providing power to the station, she said. Despite slight improvements in water provision, the ICRC remains concerned about the water and power supply situation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that while information coming from the centre and south of Iraq indicated there were relatively good medical stocks, water shortage was the most serious constraint.

The hospitals in Samarra, Najaf and Nassiria were believed to be affected by a serious lack of water, spokesperson Fadela Chaib said. For the time being, despite the high potential, there were no reports of infectious diseases outbreaks throughout the country, she added.

In the north of Iraq, Mr. Keele said two trucks with 16 tons of medical supplies, 6 tons of water purification supplies and educational materials were making their way through customs and inspections on the border from Turkey.

The UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) continued to report no significant refugee arrivals anywhere in the region.