Already alarmed by civilian casualties in Iraq, UN agencies now concerned by looting

8 April 2003

Already preoccupied with the flood of civilian casualties from the fighting in Iraq and the other hardships facing the civilian population, United Nations relief agencies today expressed a new concern - looting.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (OHCI), Ramiro Lopes da Silva, is pursuing the matter with coalition forces and reminds them that the occupying power has the duty under international conventions to ensure law and order in occupied territory, spokesperson Veronique Taveau told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities.

She said looting continued in Um Qasr and Basra in the south. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) added its voice to the concern, reporting that drivers of its aid convoys had witnessed looting in certain areas, especially in Zubair, south of Basra.

The drivers reported that schools were being looted, UNICEF spokesperson Wivina Belmonte said. "While the situation was chaotic it was manageable," she added. "People are, very simply, desperate and need to be reassured that aid trucks coming in will continue to supply them with the items they need."

Looting in schools was a dual concern, Ms. Belmonte said. The obvious one was the added damage it caused an already sorely rundown educational infrastructure. The other was that schools and other locations where intense fighting took place might become places of curiosity for children, drawing them to hunt for souvenirs and remnants of war. Souvenirs of war can be lethal souvenirs for a child, she warned.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated its serious concern about the level of civilian casualties in Baghdad and the impact this had on hospitals. Hospitals and hospital staff were reported to be overwhelmed by the number of casualties, and this was putting huge pressure on both medical supplies and medical staff, who were working round the clock to provide emergency treatment, spokesperson Fadela Chaib said.

There were reports that some hospitals were beginning to run short of crucial surgical and medical supplies, she added.

Ms. Taveau also said hospitals were being stretched to their limits, and personnel faced increasing difficulties getting to work. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that many of the electricity grids were not working, and less than 20 per cent of households were receiving power, she added.

The ICRC supplied five main surgical hospitals with emergency drinking water: 80,000 litres by water tankers and 23,000 one-litre plastic bags were delivered. It also provided additional drinking water to several suburbs in central and northern Baghdad that are not connected to the water network.

Emergency supplies continued to be trucked into Iraq or readied in its neighbours. UNICEF's trucking operations into northern and southern Iraq continued. Five trucks carrying 31 tons of supplies were on their way across Turkey and expected to reach northern Iraq tomorrow.

Another 11 UNICEF trucks were on their way into the south today, to Um Qail, South Basra, Safwan and Zubair, bringing to 85 the number of trucks taking life-saving supplies into southern Iraq since the agency began its humanitarian deliveries from Kuwait.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that with a large convoy rolling into northern Iraq from Turkey today its first major corridor into Iraq was functioning well. Nearly half of the wheat flour it had brought in from Turkey over the past few days had already been distributed, spokesman Maarten Roest said. A total of 6,000 tons of wheat flour, donated by the Canadian Government, was to be delivered in the coming week.

The UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) reported a tiny trickle of refugees out of Iraq - five to Jordan and 11 to Syria.

 

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