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Red Cross Moves to Avert Water Crisis in Basra - 2003-03-25

Red Cross experts are struggling to fix a key water plant in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in the hopes of averting a humanitarian crisis.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says a two-man team has started repairs to the power supply at Basra's war-damaged Wafa al-Qaed water processing plant. But Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal says several more people are needed to complete the repairs.

"We need safety assurances from all sides to carry out this work," he said. "The situation in that area is still relatively tense and without the assurances from both sides it would not be possible to do this kind of thing."

Mr. Westphal says the Red Cross is trying to fix the plant's damaged electricity cables. Generators have been set up to run the plant in the interim, he says, but are a short-term measure.

Most of Basra's nearly two million inhabitants have been without clean water for the past four days. Mr. Westphal says Basra's other water treatment plants have only supplied 30 percent of the city's needs and the quality of the water is poor.

Sixty to 70 percent of Basra has no access to clean water. That bares the risk that people have to look for their water elsewhere such as rivers and canals. And obviously that really increases the public health concerns.

Humanitarian agencies say daytime temperatures in Basra can soar to 40 degrees Celsius, making the need for clean water even more urgent.