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UN agencies ship more water into southern Iraq

UN agencies ship more water into southern Iraq

With the heat already taking a toll on children in southern Iraq, United Nations humanitarian agencies today reported what they hoped was "an improving pattern of access" in bringing clean water and emergency health kits into the area.

Meanwhile, the first UN security assessment team to Iraq made it to the southern city of Um Qasr yesterday. They will submit a report on their findings to the Secretary-General shortly.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities, that a convoy of five trucks was on its way to Safwan south of Basra - the first time the trucking operation organized by UNICEF under contract from private companies in Kuwait, will have reached those in need there.

Calling access to clean water "simply life-saving," spokesman Geoffrey Keele said the trucks were each carrying 35,000 litres of water and would also deliver emergency health kits, each of which meets the needs of 1,000 people for three months.

He noted that as new tankers go in, the drivers discover new needs. Drivers who reached Zubair yesterday told UNICEF that 20,000 people in nearby Um Kail had not yet received any aid whatsoever. The drivers will return to the area tomorrow with water and emergency health kits, Mr. Keele said.

When drivers delivered health kits to the hospital in Zubair yesterday, a health worker there said the heat was already taking a toll on children and that he was seeing more and more cases of children suffering from diarrhoea, Mr. Keele said. Though a seasonal phenomenon in Iraq, where the average child suffers as many as 15 bouts of diarrhoea a year, the net effect of current conditions is crippling, he added.

Mr. Keele also noted that rations handed out by the United States were wrapped in bright yellow plastic, identical in colour to a bomblet being air-dropped, as had happened in Afghanistan. UNICEF urged coalition forces to use rations only wrapped in other colours to avoid confusing children who can too easily be injured or killed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that the whole western area of Iraq – from Heet to Fallujah – had been without electricity since 29 March, when two major electricity substations were damaged during hostilities, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNHCOI) said. Most water treatment facilities in the area were operated by back-up generators and functioned between six and nine hours a day at 40 per cent capacity, it said.

For its part, the UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) said there had still not been any significant refugee arrivals, but small numbers of people were crossing the frontiers, mostly third country nationals seeking to return home but also sometimes handfuls of Iraqis.