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World Food Program Prepares for Iraq Aid Operation - 2003-04-04

The The World Food Program is preparing to provide the people of Iraq with what it says will be the most significant aid operation in history.

World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume says, once the United Nations is given the green light to bring aid into Iraq, a huge, complex operation will begin.

"The humanitarian operation for the Iraqi crisis is going to be the most important humanitarian operation in all history," she said. "Can you imagine bringing inside the country 480,000 tons of food per month for 27 million people? We have launched an appeal of $1.3 billion. We have never at WFP launched an appeal so important for one country."

Some U.N. staff members went back into Iraq Friday to assess whether security conditions are right for aid to begin to flow again. The relief workers were recalled from the country just before the war started.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross say they are trying to help Iraqi civilians cut off from electricity in Baghdad and from water in parts of southern Iraq. Ian Simpson of the World Health Organization reports that 1.5 million Iraqis in the south are without access to clean, safe drinking water, making them prone to sickness.

"An average person needs something like nine liters of water a day for drinking, for health and for hygiene," Mr. Simpson said. "If they don't get that supply, then there are serious risks to health. When water is cut off, and temperatures start to rise to 30 degrees [celsius] or more, as they are now in Iraq, the health outlook is very poor. There will be outbreaks of disease, and diarrheal disease will be the first to come."

The U.N. children's agency says it is trucking tens-of-thousands of liters of water into Umm Qasr, and the towns of al-Zubair and Safwan, south of Basra. But it says distributing the supplies is not easy. Coalition forces are providing security for the shipments, and have also built an emergency pipeline to bring water into southern Iraq from Kuwait.

The relief agencies are also expressing concern about the mounting numbers of civilian causalities, some attributable to cluster bombs. Antonella Notari of the Red Cross says, although such munitions are not illegal, they pose a serious danger to civilians.

"A large part of the bomblets do not explode and that causes long term consequences," she said. "We have seen that in places like Kosovo, where, in fact, you can compare the long-term damage that cluster bombs do to mines, because they continue threatening the civilian population.

The relief agencies report that 4,000 Iraqi civilians were killed or injured by unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs after the first Gulf war. Coalition spokesmen say they are only using cluster bombs in military areas, and that they will send out teams to try to ensure that all the bombs have exploded or are destroyed.