Global perspective Human stories

UN relief agencies report some progress in Iraq but grave health problems persist

UN relief agencies report some progress in Iraq but grave health problems persist

United Nations relief agencies today reported some incremental progress in Iraq, especially in the far south, but severe and disturbing problems still persisted in many parts of the country where lack of security and clean water were among the most urgent health issues.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said community participation in protecting and distributing vital aid continued to improve in areas of southern Iraq. At first, fearing looting, the agency was reluctant to deliver giant 5,000-litre water bladders, which can be filled in 20 minutes, and instead relied on filling people's individual buckets, taking four and a half hours to empty each water tanker.

But when the agency delivered two bladders to Um Qasr two days ago the whole community pitched in to build platforms and protective fences for them, spokesman Geoffrey Keele told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities.

UNICEF would now deliver a further four bladders tomorrow, and a further four by the end of the week, meeting full water needs. More initiatives like this in other parts of Iraq would speed up the distribution and effectiveness of aid delivery, ensuring that those in need were cared for, Mr. Keele added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it had taken part in new assessments of the health situation in northern and southern Iraq, and it was clear that severe and disturbing problems existed in many parts of the country.

The most urgent health issues were lack of security for health staff, patients and supplies, a shortage of clean water and electricity, and lack of money to meet the costs of running hospitals as well as an impending shortages of particular medicines and other medical supplies, spokesperson Melanie Zipperer said.

She said there was also a continuing high risk of outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease due to a combination of the lack of clean water, rising temperatures, and severe problems in the sanitation system due in part to the lack of electricity.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it was scaling up the loading of trucks and lining up convoys in Iran, Jordan and Turkey. The agency hoped to bring enough food into Iraq to continue the ongoing food distributions in the north and restart distribution in the south and centre before the end of the month, spokesman Khaled Mansour said.