The United Nations International Children's emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross are raising concerns about living conditions in southern Iraq. The agencies say unclean water and unexploded bombs and other devices pose the biggest threats.
UNICEF says only 20 percent of Iraqis live in the southern part of the country, but that is where the needs are now the most acute.
Agency spokesman Marc Vergara warned there is a desperate need for chlorine gas in Iraq. The gas is used in treatment plants to purify water, but supplies are running low, which means the people of the south will soon run out of clean drinking water. And that, Mr. Vergara said, will lead to other problems.
"The main need at the moment is chlorine gas. Without this gas you cannot treat the water," said Mr. Vergara. "The water is not drinkable and it leads to diseases like diarrhea or cholera, and, in fact, all water-borne diseases, which are deadly to children, especially.
"When you have children already suffering from malnutrition, and the water is bad or there is not enough of it, there is a risk of death," he warned.
The U.N. children's agency is urging coalition forces to accelerate deliveries of chlorine. Mr. Vergara said a three-month supply of chlorine to purify water for four million southern Iraqis would cost $3 million. UNICEF officials say the agency has trucked millions of liters of clean water for communities where water service has been completely lost because of fighting.
But dirty water is not the only problem facing the people of southern Iraq. The International Committee of the Red Cross says unexploded bombs, as well as stockpiles of munitions left by the government of Saddam Hussein, pose a serious danger. Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal says 30 munitions sites have been located so far just in Basra.
"The sites are [in] all kinds of locations, including private homes under construction, including at least one site in a residential area very near a playground," said Mr. Westphal. "I think our colleagues are definitely very concerned about the danger presented by this phenomenon."
In addition to Basra, Mr. Westphal says Red Cross officials are also checking the towns of Nasiriya and Samawah for unexploded ordnance and munitions stockpiles, and are notifying coalition forces of their locations.