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Water crisis hits Iraq as war keeps aid workers out

AID WORKERS are unable to help Iraqis re-establish vital clean water supplies because ongoing military action continues to make it unsafe for them to enter the country.

'Under the United Nations oil for food programme suspended [on 17 March], there was enough food stockpiled for two months. People have food for the moment, but the big priority is water, ' said Catholic Aid for Overseas Development (CAFOD) emergencies officer Alistair Dutton.

Bombing by British and American forces has cut off electricity, shutting down water supply and treatment works.

Dutton said the country was largely inaccessible to aid engineers, despite claims by British and American military that areas had been 'secured'.

'Only the small town of Umm Qasr on the Iraq/Kuwait border is safe. We hope to get into other towns in the near future, ' said Dutton.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers have been the only aid personnel to gain access to towns and cities within Iraq.

Makeshift repairs and backup power supplies to key water supply plants in Baghdad and Basra and establishment of distribution points have averted catastrophe.

The ICRC said that in many areas the water supply situation was 'critical', with even some hospitals having no supplies or being forced to used untreated water.

Bagged water and trucked supplies are also being organised. Reports say around 1.5M people have no supplies.

Aid workers dismissed the arrival of the Royal Navy vessel Sir Galahad at Umm Qasr with 200t of food last week as a PR stunt of little significance. The ship used an old dock which takes only shallow-draught vessels. Dredging of navigation channels needed for larger vessels has not started.

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