Iraq: Ongoing relief efforts following recent fighting in and around Al-Qaim

UNAMI-Baghdad 18 May 2005 -- Last week, fighting in and around Al Qa'im has resulted in the beginnings of a humanitarian situation requiring immediate response. An estimated 2000 families have reportedly fled the city, seeking refuge in neighboring towns such as Heet, Haditha, Anah, Rawa, Al-Ubaydi and the Akashat Phosphate Compound, or into the surrounding desert in order to escape the fighting. Some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are said to have sought refuge as far away as Fallujah and Baghdad.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator's office convened the Emergency Working Group (EWG) to coordinate the response of humanitarian actors. Working in concert with the EWG in Baghdad, information is being shared and responses coordinated to ensure that resources reach those most in need. The prime concern has been to reach the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with basic needs such as water, shelter, food and essential medical care.

Agencies are delivering initial assistance, assessing immediate and longer term needs, and monitoring the level of return to Al Qa'im now that the fighting in the area appears to have terminated. With the gradual easing of access constraints, the United Nations is determining what assessments can and should be done, to ensure that the response is relevant, appropriate and timely. Initial amounts of water, food, medical supplies and non-food items are being delivered to IDP-receiving areas, with plans to provide them as well to Al Qa'im in the nearest future. Additionally, agencies are starting to pre-position food and non-food items in the region in order to expedite distribution in Al Qa'im once transport and access are more reliable.

It is reported that the water systems for the affected regions are operational provided electricity is available, and 130,000 litres of water is being trucked daily to the Akashat Phosphate Compound. The return of families continues, although exact numbers are not yet available. Those who sought security in the desert are returning faster than those who went to villages. The UN agencies are working with their regular counterparts and partners to ensure that necessary items such as ORS packets, health kits, and other non-food items stored elsewhere in the country are being made available for distribution to affected populations. Similarly, the Ministry of Trade is in discussions with its regular transporter to restart delivery of food to Al Qa'im under the PDS program.

The shortage of ambulances to evacuate severe cases from Al Qa'im is of concern, as the hospital's surgery facilities are reportedly not properly functional. Examinations for elementary and secondary school students are reportedly postponed, as the situation is not conducive for children to take the exams, and in some villages the schools, as well as other community facilities such as mosques, are providing refuge for IDPs.

The UN and its partners urge all concerned to respect the right for humanitarian space and the human rights of the civilians, and to continue to facilitate the access of humanitarian aid to those in need.