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Rising Crime Becomes Troubling Humanitarian Issue in Iraq - 2003-05-23


Representatives of international relief groups told the Security Council today that Iraq's humanitarian conditions are deteriorating as crime sweeps the country.

The chaos that has followed the fall of Saddam Hussein has taken its toll on the country, according to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette. "Ministries, water treatment plants, hospitals, and warehouses have been devastated. Many facilities were repaired or restocked only to be looted several days later," she said.

But the lack of security in the country is having effects well beyond the hospitals, ministries, and warehouses. International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger told the council crime is becoming a humanitarian issue. "When it comes to assessing the current humanitarian situation, it is essential to understand that it cannot be disassociated from the security context," he said.

The U.N.'s Louise Frechette said the security problem is affecting humanitarian aid delivery, as well as everyday life in Iraq. "The very fear of violence in many areas is making it more difficult and often impossible to deliver drugs and other essential supplies, and preventing people from going to work," she said. "We've also had firsthand reports of women who are afraid to go outside."

Children are staying home from school, according to emergency program director Nils Kastberg of UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund. "In the south and center, school attendance rates remain well below pre-war average of 75 percent, which already was low and many are reluctant to send their children to school, especially girls, through potentially dangerous situations," he said.

The World Health Organization's David Nabarro said the lack of security is making it harder to deliver health care. He says it's especially a problem for the disabled and those with chronic diseases. But he says the problem goes beyond basic security. Dr. Nabarro says the lack of any functioning Iraqi government is contributing to the disarray. "Even in situations that are secure, the power vacuum means that government workers in hospitals and health centers who really want to work, do not know who should direct them. They do not know what is expected of them," he said. "They do not know whether they have any likelihood of long-term employment."

Dr. Nabarro estimated that health-care services are running at 20 to 40 percent of their pre-war capacity.

Jakob Kellenberger of the Red Cross told the Security Council that even before the war, water and health-care systems had degraded so much that they were a major concern. But he says the safety problem has made an already-bad situation much worse. Mr. Kellenberger said Iraq is not yet facing a humanitarian crisis, but may if security does not improve.

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