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Iraq: UN agencies concerned at potential cholera epidemic, Palestinian evictions

Iraq: UN agencies concerned at potential cholera epidemic, Palestinian evictions

United Nations relief agencies expressed concern today over a potential cholera epidemic in Iraq's second largest city, Basra, and a growing eviction of Palestinian refugees that could eventually leave up to 90,000 people homeless.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said 17 cases of acute watery diarrhoeal syndrome had been noted in two Basra hospitals since 28 April, and initial laboratory analysis showed cholera was highly probable.

"Due to the current security situation and difficulties experienced in restoring safe water supplies to the population, a larger cholera epidemic is predicted," WHO said.

It added that agency staff had already set up a surveillance system, were conducting a survey of diarrhoeal cases in other hospitals and had established an outbreak committee to implement control measures using pre-positioned supplies. WHO said there were also about 160 cases of watery diarrhoea in Baghdad and it was monitoring that situation too and testing the cases.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that in light of the situation in Basra it was providing 200 tons of chlorine gas for the water stations and for hospitals.

The Security Council President for May, Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, yesterday cited cholera as one of the concerns facing UN agencies in Iraq, saying the outbreak "has to be contained."

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a growing number of Palestinian refugees had been evicted from their homes in Baghdad, and an agency convoy with basic relief supplies left Jordan for the Iraqi capital today.

Reports suggested that about 1,000 Palestinians had already been forced to leave their homes since the end of the war and were camping in disused buildings and various open areas around Baghdad.

"UNHCR fears that more of the 60,000 to 90,000 Palestinian refugees believed to be living in Iraq may lose their homes, as other landlords reclaim property they were forced to rent out for minuscule sums to the (previous) Ba'ath government on behalf of the refugees," spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

He said a UNHCR team in southern Iraq had also discovered that local communities had ejected dozens of Iranian refugees from their homes.

Today's convoy from Jordan was carrying materials for up to 2,000 people, including 400 tents, 1,200 mattresses and 2,000 blankets as well as stoves, jerry cans and soap.

The UN reported that the number of victims of mines and unexploded ordinance in the three northern governorates during March and April increased by more than 90 per cent compared to the same period last year. A significant number of the victims were children.

In Baghdad, teams from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are assessing electricity and water sanitation sites together with technical personnel from the relevant Iraqi ministries.

Also in Baghdad, a C-130 cargo plane loaded with UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) supplies landed yesterday with oral re-hydration kits, black fever medicine and emergency health kits destined for paediatric sites.

Meanwhile, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced that its first staffer had arrived in Iraq, in the northern town of Erbil, to work within the office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq to ensure that issues relating to the protection of civilians were identified and addressed promptly.

Six more OHCHR international experts were due to travel to Iraq, and an expert should arrive in Baghdad next week, the agency said in Geneva. This was significant because it was the first time that UN human rights staffers had gone to Iraq to be based there for any length of time, spokesman Jose Luis Diaz added.