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UN aid agencies paint grim picture of massive relief tasks in Iraq

UN aid agencies paint grim picture of massive relief tasks in Iraq

Painting a grim picture of hardship and horror, United Nations relief agencies today underscored the massive humanitarian tasks awaiting them in war-shattered Iraq.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that hospitals in Baghdad and elsewhere were overwhelmed by the numbers of injured, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said a humanitarian clock was ticking with each passing day, and the World Food Programme (WFP) predicted it would have to move in massive amounts of food next month.

"We have all seen some very disturbing pictures of child victims of this conflict - children with burn injuries, a young boy lying in a hospital bed, both his arms blown off," WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities. "And away from the cameras, these scenes are being repeated every day."

Referring to the hundreds of civilians, especially children, injured every day, she said: "Those who are injured and survive may end up in hospital needing treatment for third degree burns, or having limbs amputated and never again being able to run properly or play." Many hospitals were reported to be running short of supplies of medicines, anaesthetics and basic equipment, she added.

WHO was also extremely concerned about the psychological impact of conflict, fear, and the loss of family members or neighbours on Iraqi children, Ms. Chaib said. The physical and psychological damage of conflict could take years to heal, and are likely to leave many permanent scars.

"One can only wonder what an eight-year-old child in Baghdad might be imagining about the daily nightmare he or she is witnessing," UNICEF spokesperson Wivina Belmonte said. "The pictures we see on our televisions show us the most immediate, most stark images of children - hurt and injured in the conflict. What is more difficult to show, but which has its own devastating effect is the lack of water, the poor and deteriorating health conditions, and the trauma each child is living."

She noted that UNICEF had today sent a further convoy of 11 trucks across the border from Kuwait to towns in southern Iraq, including Basra, Safwan and Zubair, with each truck carrying urgent supplies such as thousands of litres of clean water and life-saving medical supplies.

But Ms. Belmonte warned: "With each passing day, as the conflict continues, a humanitarian clock is ticking - it's a question of access, it's a question of distribution, it's a question of time, and it's a question of the lives of Iraqi children.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNHCOI), quoting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported that all Baghdad hospitals were under extreme pressure, with the influx of injured at Al-Yarmouk hospital reaching 100 people per hour yesterday. The water situation generally remained critical in the city as pressure in the network drops, spokesman David Wimhurst said.

In New York, WFP Executive Director James Morris told a press briefing that the needs in Iraq "will be by far the largest undertaking we've ever had."

He said that for the first 30 days of WFP's six-month plan for Iraq, which will require $1.3 billion for logistics, food and communications, the agency will focus on refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). In the second through fourth months, that responsibility will be expanded to include the entire population of Iraq.

"Within months five and six, by then the [UN's] Oil-for-Food [programme] will be back in place and our work will be with very much at-risk people, plus the remaining refugees and internally displaced people," Mr. Morris added. He also noted that WFP has already identified about $110 million worth of supplies in existing contracts under the Oil-for-Food operation that can be shipped within the next 45 days.