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No Major Humanitarian Disaster in Iraq, says US  Relief Official

The head of the U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team, known as DART, says the expected humanitarian crisis has not materialized from the war in Iraq. Instead, relief operations are targeting specific areas of need.

The relief official, Michael Marx, said the good news is there is no major humanitarian disaster in Iraq. "What we are seeing right now is not a major humanitarian crisis and we are very happy about that. What we are seeing are pockets of needs. So in neighborhoods within cities, we are seeing humanitarian needs that are being addressed as quickly as possible," Mr. Marx said.

Mr. Marx said the priority focus for U.S. and other relief organizations is water and sanitation.

Before the war started, Iraq's government allowed Iraqis to stock up on basic foodstuffs provided by the U.N. oil-for-food program. But power cuts and damage to water pumping stations have caused a shortage of clean drinking water in many population centers, especially in the south.

Mr. Marx said medical kits and other supplies are also being ferried into hospitals, which Red Cross officials have described as over-burdened by civilian casualties.

One field team from the U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team is already operating in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Two other teams are waiting in Jordan and Turkey to move into northern and central Iraq.

Mr. Marx said it is still not safe enough in most of Iraq for large-scale relief operations. "It is frustrating, but this is not really time or calendar driven. It really is situationally dependent. We have to wait until the combat operations have ceased," he said.

Relief supplies for one million people have been stockpiled in Kuwait, Jordan and other nearby countries. They can be moved into Iraq as needed either by road or air.

Mr. Marx told a news conference in Amman the DART team is coordinating efforts with the United Nations and non-government organizations and is not acting as a gatekeeper. He stresses that the relief operation is not controlled by the U.S. military.

The disaster response team is directed by the U.S. Agency for International Development and includes representatives from several U.S. agencies that deal with emergency relief.

There has been friction between Washington and U.N. and non-government relief organizations over the role of the U.S. military in running humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts.

Aid organizations refuse to be linked to the U.S. military for fear it compromises their neutrality and security.

Last month, the United Nations advised its humanitarian workers in Iraq to deal with the U.S. military only on issues related to displaced persons and security for relief convoys. But the guidelines allow cooperation with the non-military DART teams operating in the same areas.