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UN opens new food corridor into Iraq but dirty water threatens 'potential calamity'

UN opens new food corridor into Iraq but dirty water threatens 'potential calamity'

Trucks loaded with food aid for Iraq (WFP)
United Nations relief agencies today reported the opening of a fifth food corridor into Iraq, the imminent return of more international staff and the dispatch of emergency medical supplies, but warned that rapidly dwindling chlorine supplies in the south could leave water untreated within weeks, with "potentially calamitous" results.

"It's not too much to say that we are alarmed. The water situation is acute," Carel de Rooy, head of the Iraq office of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities.

"People have to understand that children who contract diarrhoea, never mind cholera, cannot retain their food. They wither away. And we are on the cusp of seeing contaminated water flow directly from the putrid main rivers into household pipes," Mr. De Rooy said, speaking from the southern city of Basra where a UNICEF team has been assessing the water situation.

Noting that there was a parallel rise in diarrhoea in towns where lack of chlorine had begun to show in the past week, he said: "What's needed now is an emergency shipment of about 400 tons of chlorine gas. Without it, we'll see many more child deaths by the end of this month."

Adding her voice to the alarm, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said: "The dirty water equation is a simple one. Young children have developing immune systems and low body weight. Add a bout of diarrhoea or cholera picked up from dirty water, and we can lose them very quickly."

On a more positive note the World Food Programme (WFP) said it had opened a fifth humanitarian food corridor today with a 22-truck convoy from Kuwait carrying 880 tons of wheat flour, enough for 100,000 people for a month. The agency is already operating food corridors from Turkey, Iran, Jordan and Syria.

The latest convoy was headed for Nassariya, where a weekend assessment reported that household stocks were unlikely to last beyond the first week of May. The city is the capital of Thi Qar province with a population of over 900,000 people.

The WFP said that with 200 aid trucks rolling into northern Iraq daily it had achieved pre-war security levels there and was now reaching out to cover the food needs of the central region.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was sending three large trucks from Amman to Baghdad with tons of emergency supplies to respond to critical shortages of medicines and other health supplies.

These included 40 emergency health kits, with each kit serving 10,000 people for three months with basic drugs, surgical items, insulin and auto destruct syringes. The delivery would thus help serve the urgent health needs of 400,000 people until the end of July, spokesperson Fadela Chaib said.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNHCOI) said 30 more international staff left Larnaca, Cyprus, today for Diyarbakir in Turkey, prior to re-entry into northern Iraq. This was the second team to be deployed to the north and it would remain temporarily in Kirkuk before travelling to Mosul, their final destination, once the security situation improved, spokesman David Wimhurst said.

Meanwhile, he said the security situation in Baghdad remained uncertain. Shooting continued after dark despite recommendation by the military authorities that residents observe a curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Although political activity was on the increase, with new parties appearing daily, the ready availability of small arms, which could be bought at very low prices in local markets, would remain a destabilizing factor unless steps were taken to prevent access to such weapons, Mr. Wimhurst added.