Iraq: Lack of security hampers aid efforts

By Dominic Nutt
Kuwait City, April 16, 2003 - The lack of security in southern Iraq continues to hamper relief efforts, according to ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA).

Arve Danielson of NCA, an electrical engineer, and colleague Thor Valla, a water specialist, have been seconded to work for UNICEF in and around the port town of Um Qasr and Basra.

The team, based in Kuwait City, just south of the Iraqi border, have been delivering water to beleaguered communities and are working to restore water pumping stations in a program part-funded by Christian Aid.

Mr Danielson said: "The need is great. So far we have only been able to get to Um Qasr but we are slowly moving towards Basra."

He said that Basra only had around 40 per cent of the water it needed. "Four of the eight water treatment plants in the city were damaged by looters in the past few days and are out of action. Security is very bad."

NCA has been able to reach Um Qasr most days and the situation there was improving - but stressed there were still huge problems in the town.

"Um Qasr has a population of 47,000 people but there are still around 40 new diarrhoea cases a day because of foul water. Sanitation in the town's hospital there is a disaster. The cess pit is overflowing and we don't have the trucks to empty it.

"And the situation in the Al Faw peninsula, just south of Um Qasr, is even worse. No one has been there because the Iraqi military destroyed the bridges. According to reports it is worse than Basra."

Under the terms of international humanitarian law, the British army is the responsible authority in this part of Iraq at the present time and NCA is relying on them to maintain public order. "Much more damage has been done to water plants by looters than by the Iraqi or coalition military. In one plant, we have been working with the plant manager, a Ba'ath party member."

"His workforce is loyal and they are trying to keep the plant going. The other day we were with him when looters attacked the plant. The British army came and calmed the situation down - they were very good."

"The army is also giving us protection when we are delivering water. People are desperate - water is worth more than gold around here. Children crowd round us slowing down our vehicles and throwing stones. At one time we had to withdraw because the situation became too dangerous."

The NCA team hopes to move into Iraq permanently in the coming weeks and use Kuwait as an administrative base and as a staging post for equipment. "We are wasting a lot of time driving back and forth each day," said Mr Danielson. "We will move into Iraq as soon as it is safe to do so."

(The global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International are responding to the emergency in Iraq through local member Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), UK-based Christian Aid (CA), Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Dutch-based Inter Church Organization for Development Cooperation/Kerkinactie (ICCO/KiA). All members have longstanding commitments to the people of the Middle East. CA and ICCO/KiA are working through local partners in Northern Iraq. Several ACT members are supporting the humanitarian relief efforts through financial contributions.)

(Dominic Nutt is a journalist with the UK-based ACT member Christian Aid)