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April 6, 2003
 
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U.N. Agencies Warn of Health Disaster in Baghdad

Reuters


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Reporter's Notebook: Baghdad Fighting Intensifies
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April 6

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - U.N. relief agencies warned on Sunday of a health crisis facing the five million inhabitants of Baghdad, with hospitals overwhelmed and infrastructure devastated as U.S. forces tighten their grip on the city.

"We expect a severe deterioration of the health situation during the days to come due to the daily bombardment that results in damage of infrastructure and sharp rise in civilian casualties," Fadela Chaib, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman told reporters.

Earlier Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Baghdad hospitals are struggling to cope with a deluge of wounded that has stretched resources to the limit and caused growing chaos.

The WHO official said medical staff in Baghdad's major hospitals were "overwhelmed" and access to health care and drugs was ..."getting more difficult as stocks currently cannot be replenished."

There were reports of shortages of medicines such as analgesics, antibiotics, anesthetics and insulin and surgical items, Chaib added.

The U.N.'s health body contacted 10 major medical stores in Amman to procure 54 urgently needed medicines and medical supplies to send to Baghdad as soon as possible.

WHO coordinator Jim Tulloch said from Kuwait that the agency was hearing reports of hundreds of civilian deaths in the war and thousands of wounded civilians.

"The exact numbers don't really matter, there is for us no acceptable level of civilian casualties," Tulloch said in an interview with CNN.

"These numbers whatever they are, are made up of individuals, children who have third degree burns, children who have had to have their limbs amputated and will never walk again, pregnant women who are having miscarriages," he said.

"We feel it is extremely important to call on all parties involved in this war to do absolutely everything possible to minimize civilian casualties."

DAMAGE TO INFRASTRUCTURE

David Wimhurst, spokesman for the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI), said extensive damage to Baghdad's infrastructure from the 18-day-old war was now a major impediment to treating the wounded and getting aid.

"Damage to infrastructure is further hampering relief efforts in and around the city," Wimhurst said, citing the destruction of a bridge leading south from Baghdad which made alternative routes south out of the city unsafe.

The ICRC considered the situation in the city "near critical" with water systems to become quickly affected with no maintenance of power plants and generators, although fuel was still available, Wimhurst said.

Wivina Belmonte, spokesperson for the U.N Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the aid body was particularly worried about the impact of the war on Baghdad's children, almost half of the capital's population.

"We must make sure that Baghdad does not become another Basra," she told Reuters.

Fighting in and around Iraq's second city has limited water, electricity and medical supplies, forcing many civilians to flee. The lack of adequate clean water was hampering efforts to treat the wounded.

Belmonte said UNICEF was concerned about reports in the last few days of the use of cluster bombs in densely populated urban areas.

"These cruel and clumsy weapons are already reported to have claimed the lives of Iraqi children and their use must end," she said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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