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UN relief agencies report some progress in their aid efforts in Iraq

UN relief agencies report some progress in their aid efforts in Iraq

United Nations relief agencies reported some positive developments in Iraq today, mainly in the north, although lawlessness still continued and hospitals throughout the country remained either totally disrupted or limping on in a precarious state.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told the daily humanitarian briefing in Amman, Jordan, that all schools in the three northern governorates of Dohuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah had reopened and classes had resumed in what it called “a very important first step in creating a sense of normalcy in these chaotic times.”

Encouraged by the rapid developments in the whole country, the majority of the 300,000 internal refugees had returned home and only about 3,000 remained in the north, where they had been sheltering in schools and camps, UNICEF spokesman Geoffrey Keele said.

But he warned that the relative stability of the north contrasted with the lawlessness in other parts of the country. In the 15 governorates of the south and centre schools remained closed, further delaying a stable environment for children. Nevertheless, in Umm Qasr, UNICEF and volunteers had begun screening children for malnutrition. Mr. Keele said UNICEF had been able to locate many of the former volunteers who staffed childcare centres before the outbreak of hostilities and new volunteers were also being trained in what he called “an extremely important development.”

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNHCI) reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had resumed its activities in Baghdad and was extremely concerned that the health care system there had basically collapsed. Interruptions to the water and electricity supply remained a serious threat to public health, spokesman David Wimhurst said.

But in the south UN humanitarian missions with sorely needed water and other supplies had now begun from Kuwait to Safwan, Umm Kayaal and Al Zubair, he added. In Basrah, overall security was improving and power and water supplies were partly operational, although intensive looting had seriously affected water provision to the hospitals.

Mr. Wimhurst said the UN flight carrying international staff back to the three northern governorates had been delayed while they were awaiting clearance from the military authorities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said a WHO team had conducted its first comprehensive survey of the situation in hospitals in the northern city of Kirkuk and found that the water and electricity infrastructure had been severely disrupted and health facilities seriously damaged and disrupted by looting.

Between 50 and 75 per cent of the health staff were not coming to work, and the work of those who were able to turn up at any of the hospitals was made extremely difficult as the main health storage facilities had been completely emptied by looters, spokeswoman Melanie Zipperer said.

All medicines and medical supplies had been stolen and even the windows, doors and cooling system had been stolen or destroyed. All health centres in the town had also been looted, as well as the local office of the Department of Health, she added.

Although this was only a snapshot from one town, WHO believed the situation was repeated across much of Iraq, she said. Health facilities had been looted, vital supplies stolen, and both staff and patients were either afraid or unable to travel to the hospitals. Combined with the damage done to water and electricity systems, this made the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Iraqi health system harder than ever.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that its office in Baghdad had been looted and very little property remained. Spokesman Khaled Mansour said WPF staff were on standby in Cyprus to re-enter northern Iraq and the agency was hoping to open a new supply convoy route through Jordan this week.