"Lack of fresh water threatens hospitals

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Posted by Sadie from D006242.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Tuesday, April 08, 2003 at 9:05PM :

Lack of fresh water threatens hospitals swamped by casualties

Precarious situation in cities makes deliveries difficult

Owen Bowcott
Tuesday April 8, 2003
The Guardian

At least one hospital in the southern suburb of Mahmudiya has been overwhelmed by the number of civilian and military casualties, according to the agency's director of operations, Pierre Krahenbuhl. Another ICRC official described the situation as "extremely precarious".
Water supplies stopped on Thursday because mains electricity, which powers the pumps, had been knocked out by the fighting. Red Cross teams have kept generators running and set up water treatment installations but have found it difficult to move as sporadic fighting spreads across the capital.

"Fresh water supplies for hospitals are very important but the environment is becoming less and less predictable," he told a press conference in London. At one stage on Saturday, following air raids and the US military incursion, civilian casualties were arriving at one Baghdad hospital at the rate of 100 an hour.

Water shortages are also acute in Kerbala, Najaf, Nassiriya and Basra. The ICRC has six foreign aid workers in Baghdad, four in Basra and another four in the north, as well as more than 100 local staff.

Those in the capital said they could only reach one hos pital, al-Kindi, yesterday, where surgeons were working non-stop and running short of anaesthetics and equipment. Doctors said they had taken in four dead and 176 injured in the previous 24 hours.

"Surgeons have been working round the clock for the past two days and most are exhausted. Conditions are terrible," said Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, of the Red Cross. "You could hear very close-range explosions. The windows were rattling from the thud of explosions."

The agency delivered thousands of one-litre water bags to the main hospitals in Baghdad before the American assault began but stocks are now running low. The agency is now attempting to bring in another 30,000 litres to the city's five main surgical hospitals.

In Basra, the ICRC said staff had reached an agreement with Iraqi and British troops allowing them to cross "no man's land" between the front lines and repair the pumping stations.

Mr Krahenbuhl said 50% of the population had running water restored.

"Some of the supply is on a rotating basis where different areas of the city receive water at different times," he said.

One inhabitant,holding his one-year-old daughter in his arms, told a reporter: "The situation is not good. There is no water. All the citizens are very thirsty.

"On television and radio, they promised to give us water, but all we have is air."

Britain's Department for International Development, which has contributed 32m towards Red Cross emergency relief work in Iraq, said yesterday that it understood there were water shortages in other parts of central Iraq such as Abu Ghraib, Mahmudiya, Hilla, Kerbala and Anbar.

In Nassiriya, where US teams are trying to restore supplies, resident were reported to be out on the streets searching for water. Lack of clean drinking water is a major cause of diarrhoea and respiratory diseases, which already take a heavy toll of Iraqi children.

Yesterday the ICRC also revealed that it had raised fresh concerns with London and Washington about the use of cluster bombs.

"We have raised those concerns particularly in urban areas," said Mr Krahenbuhl.

-- Sadie
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