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UN relief agencies again stress need for security in Iraq

UN relief agencies again stress need for security in Iraq

United Nations relief agencies today again stressed the vital need to re-establish security throughout Iraq to enable them to carry out humanitarian functions ranging from providing health care to supplying food.

"If you ask me 'what is on top of your priority for the health sector,' if you ask me 'what are the three priorities that we should tackle now under the health sector,' my reply will be: security, security and security," the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Iraq, Dr. Ghulam Popal, told a briefing in Baghdad.

He said all public health programmes, control measures, health education and all other aspects of public health that contribute immensely to the prevention of diseases and promotion of health had collapsed. "There are great potential, this is what I would like to emphasize, of outbreak of diseases, particularly water-borne diseases," Dr. Popal added.

WHO has 25 teams in the country trying to assess what the most urgent needs are, he said.

On a one-day visit to Baghdad yesterday, the first by a UN agency chief since the war, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), James Morris, told a news conference that security continued to be one of the overwhelming issues in terms of his agency's operations in Iraq.

Mr. Morris met with local Iraqi officials from the Ministry of Trade as well as officials from the United States attached to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs. He said he expected the food distribution system to be fully operational by 1 June.

In southern Iraq, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is now sending in around 67 water tankers daily from Kuwait - more than 2 million litres per day. UNICEF staff is also working on repairing the water distribution system, which was severely damaged - both during the war and afterwards by looters.

"The dirty water equation is a simple one," Kathryn Irwin of UNICEF's office in Basra, Iraq's second city, said over the weekend. "Young children have developing immune systems and low body weight. Add a bout of diarrhoea or cholera picked up from dirty water and you can lose them very quickly."

Meanwhile, the Swedish Rescue Service is providing the UN with tents and equipment to enable it to increase its international presence in Baghdad.