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UN international aid workers begin returning to Iraq after five-week absence

UN international aid workers begin returning to Iraq after five-week absence

WFP humanitarian aid convoy
The first international United Nations humanitarian staff began returning to Iraq today more than five weeks after they were withdrawn on the eve of hostilities, and UN relief agencies reported a "dramatic increase" in food supplies, some restoration of electricity in Baghdad and cautious efforts to restart medical services.

A team of six international UN staff, led by the northern Iraq coordinators for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), crossed the Turkish border and were expected in Dohuk tonight, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities.

Another group of 28 international UN staff led by the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for northern Iraq landed in Dyarbakir, Turkey, from Larnaca, Cyprus, and are scheduled to reach Erbil in northern Iraq tomorrow, spokesperson Veronique Taveau said.

This team will concentrate on basic food services, internal refugee assistance and mine action in the three northern governorates of Erbil, Dohuk and Suleimaniyah, and then rapidly expand their activities to health and education, she added.

Ms. Taveau said electricity in Baghdad has now been partially restored, reaching about 30 per cent of the city. This will not only help to ease living conditions for residents but also facilitate the work of hospitals and the water-supply system. But the surrounding poorer suburbs lagged far behind, with pools of sewage and heaps of uncollected refuse polluting the streets, she added.

For its part the WFP said food supplies via Turkey were increasing dramatically, with 1,607 trucks containing some 38,177 tons of food aid sent so far - enough for about 2.7 million people for one month. The three Kurdish provinces, the major targets of this route, have about 3.6 million people benefiting from these food commodities.

The major escalation in deliveries meant food stocks in Kurdish-controlled areas were approaching pre-war food security levels, allowing the WFP to focus on reaching areas formerly controlled by the Iraqi Government, where food distribution was effectively frozen during the conflict, spokesman Khaled Mansour said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said its national staff, more than 350 people in all, were working in many Iraqi communities to help jump-start medical services. In Baghdad, a team of WHO epidemiologist and engineers, together with Iraqi microbiologists from the National Public Health Laboratories, was rebuilding the laboratories' capacity to analyze blood and other samples, spokesperson Fadela Chaib said.

Together with the Department of Health, WHO was also moving a convoy of three trucks filled with urgently needed medical supplies and food from Dohuk to Mosul in the north, while in Kirkuk life appeared to be returning to normal with electricity and water both functioning, she added.

The UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) said the Jordanian Government had admitted some 300 Palestinian refugees from Iraq, among them people who were stuck in no-man's-land for nearly three weeks. But more than 850 Iranians remained in the no-man's-land at Al Karama, most of them ethnic Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in Iraq.

A UNHCR staff member from the Kuwait City office went on a day-mission today to the southern Iraqi town of Um Qasr to make contact with local officials, the second such mission by a staff member into Iraq in as many days, spokesman Peter Kessler said.