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Red Cross: Millions of Iraqis at Risk From Polluted Water


The International Committee of the Red Cross warns millions of Iraqis are at risk of disease from polluted water and inadequate health care. It says the situation of inadequate health care, water and sanitation services is particularly bad in the Iraqi countryside. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says security and the provision of essential services have somewhat improved in recent months. But, it says decades of conflict and war in Iraq have taken a heavy toll in terms of crumbling infrastructure and chronic shortages in basic supplies and services.

The Red Cross says it is particularly concerned about the millions of households that are not connected to a water network. ICRC spokeswoman, Dorothea Krimitsas tells VOA about 40 percent of the population, mainly in the countryside and suburbs, lacks access to clean, piped in water.

"Those who cannot buy water, which is at an average cost of 50 U.S. cents for about 10 liters, those who cannot afford that have to collect water from rivers and wells," she said. "These rivers and wells are very often polluted either by household waste, untreated sewage that goes directly to the rivers and other kinds of pollutions from everywhere… All these things are creating a situation that puts millions of Iraqis at risk today."

Krimitsas says many people are afflicted with water-borne diseases. Unfortunately, she says many are unable to get the treatment they need because hospitals are overstretched.

"They have to struggle with chronic shortages of medical supplies and also of equipment," she said. "The dilapidated medical facilities, sometimes also outdated medical facilities do not have proper maintenance and sanitation. Electricity shortages are still common all over the country. And, on top of that specialists are not always available."

The International Committee of the Red Cross is expanding its water, sanitation and health care programs in Iraq. The organization also is delivering drugs and surgical dressing materials to hospitals.

But, Krimitsas notes humanitarian assistance alone cannot solve the country's vast problems. She says that will only be possible when civilians who are targeted or killed and injured on a daily basis can live in a safe and better environment.

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