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UN food convoys converge on Iraq

UN food convoys converge on Iraq

Trucks loaded with food aid for Iraq (WFP)
United Nations food convoys were advancing on Iraq from four directions today as relief agencies continued to report issues of major humanitarian concern.

Dozens of World Food Programme (WFP) trucks left Amman in Jordan to the west and Kermanshah in Iran to the east on their way to Baghdad and Sulaymaniyah respectively, spokesman Khaled Mansour told the daily briefing in Amman on UN humanitarian activities.

The Amman convoy – 50 trucks with more than 1,400 tons of wheat flour – will be the first one to cross the border into Iraq from Jordan. The Kermanshah convoy – five trucks with 100 tons of vegetable oil – was moving slowly on a hilly road and was expected to reach the border tonight, heading towards Sulaymaniyah tomorrow morning.

To the north, WFP said the corridor from Turkey had been dramatically scaled up. A large convoy with as many as 100 trucks was scheduled to cross into Iraq today heading for Dahuk with 3,000 tons of food, the biggest consignment yet to travel along this corridor.

To the far south, WFP was preparing to move 50,000 tons of wheat flour from Kuwait to warehouses in Iraq. The wheat arrived late last week for milling, the first Oil-for-Food shipment since the programme, upon which 60 per cent of Iraqis depend as their sole source of food, was adjusted by the Security Council to meet the new situation following hostilities in Iraq. A second 50,000-ton shipment is expected in the Jordanian port of Aqaba within days.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the situation in Baghdad continued to cause major concern. The Central Public Health Laboratory had been looted and incubators containing polio virus cultures had been stolen, spokesperson Melanie Zipperer said. Hospitals reported to be functioning to some extent included the Medical City complex, Yarmouk, Kadhimiya and No'man. WHO staff would continue to visit major hospitals in order to prioritize and rapidly meet the most urgent needs, she added.

"We have made contact with WHO staff in Baghdad and the information they have provided is bleak," Ms. Zipperer said. The WHO Baghdad office had been very badly looted and burned, all official vehicles had been stolen and much valuable equipment and information destroyed.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), meanwhile, reported an outbreak of blackwater fever in southern Iraq. The waterborne disease, also know as laeshmaniasis, leads to severe debility and eventually death if not treated within four to six weeks. Spokesman Geoffrey Keele stressed the urgency of getting medicines into the affected area.

He said the Iraqi Refugee Aid Council had reported 100 cases in Amarah, 70 in Nasiriya, and an unspecified number in Az Zubair. Children under five were the most vulnerable to contracting the disease, he added.

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said farmers in Iraq were in urgent need of spare parts and fuel for combine harvesters and tractors for the upcoming spring harvest, the country's main harvest, for which the outlook was uncertain following the conflict.

"Every effort should be made to enable farmers to return to their fields and start harvesting wheat and barley at the beginning of May," Laurent Thomas, Chief of FAO Special Emergency Programmes Service said in Rome. "In addition, urgent support is needed to revive cereal marketing and distribution facilities."