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Reporters Notebook: Relief Supplies in Umm Qasr


Relief supplies are arriving in Um Qasr, a port at Iraq's southernmost tip. VOA's William Chien visited the Iraqi seaport and talked with members of the U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team.

I leave Kuwait City with U.S. relief workers, heading northeast by truck into Iraq. After an hour, we cross the border demarcated by cities that are much older and shabbier than those in Kuwait. Another hour passes and our truck arrives in Iraq's most important port, Um Qasr.

Prior to the war, some 60 percent of humanitarian aid for the U.N. Oil-for-Food Programme passed through Um Qasr. The war ended all that, temporarily.

Except for a small, vee-shaped delta that touches the sea, Iraq is a land-locked country. Ports such as Um Qasr are very small. After entering the port, I am immediately drawn to the bustle of traffic and shipping. Everyone is intent on their work and hard to distract. Around the docks I see many trucks. There are many workers who, I'm told, have have returned to their jobs of handling arriving ships.

Port managers had originally thought they would not hire Iraqi workers, for reasons of safety. They soon learned that the decision to use soldiers and Kuwaitis would entail prohibitively high costs and would not be conducive to rallying the Iraqis. Now, they are starting to hire more locals. I hear the port manager telling a group that the port is temporarily unable to accept shipments of commercial goods because of supplies for the army as well as water, food, medicine and other supplies for Iraqi people displaced by the war.

The chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Disaster Assistance Response Team, Regina Davis, estimates that Iraq's 25.8 million people require 470 tons of grain a month. "The public distribution system, as I'm sure you are aware, was funded by the oil-for-food program under the auspices of the United Nations," she says.

Ms. Davis says that currently the grain distribution in Iraqi is funded by the UN's "Oil For Food" program. According to her estimates, about 60 percent of Iraq's population depend on this program for survival. Prior to the start of the war, the majority of Iraqi families stored enough food for one month. At present, it appears that no major famine was brought about by the war. However, in some small areas, Iraqis have experienced food shortages.

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