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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

IRAQ: NGOs urge more aid for displaced families in south

NAJAF, 27 March 2007 (IRIN) - Nearly a million displaced people in Iraq’s increasingly volatile southern provinces are in urgent need of food, medicines and municipal services, local officials and NGOs say. Aid workers have called on international humanitarian organisations and the central government to provide more assistance to the growing numbers of displaced in the south of the country.

“Najaf, Kerbala and Basra provinces, in particular, are greatly suffering with a continued increase in displacement. There are dozens of families arriving every day at camps for the displaced, causing a lack of essential needs such as food and health care,” said Ali Fakhouri, a spokesman of Najaf provincial council.

“The past two months were the worst for those families. For security reasons,the delivery of aid has decreased considerably and because of a lack in medicines in the region’s hospitals and inaccessibility to hospitals, children are more vulnerable to diseases,” Fakhouri added. “Diarrhoea is common among children in displaced groups in the south.”

Fakhouri said that nearly 90 percent of the 700,000 internally displaced people in the southern provinces lack essential needs. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), of this total, at least 310,000 arrived there after the bombing on 22 February 2006 of a revered Shia shrine in the northern city of Samarra caused an escalation of sectarian violence.

Fakhouri said that unofficial records suggest there are at least 200,000 more displaced people in the southern provinces, bringing the total to nearly a million. The economically poorer southern cities have few jobs to offer this massive influx of people. As such, the displaced are largely unemployed and depend on assistance from aid organisations.

Government slow to respond

Local NGOs say they simply cannot cope with the large numbers arriving in the south and blame the government for being slow to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis there. Fareed Abbas, a spokesman for Najaf-based NGO the Muslim Organisation for Peace (MOP), said the central government was unwilling to provide sufficient funds to develop sanitation, education and electricity projects in the southern provinces.

“We have appealed dozens of times to the central government to help in such critical circumstances but we haven’t got any response yet. Instead, over the past few months, their assistance has decreased considerably, leaving people without support and infrastructure,” Abbas said.

“Children are getting sick and the elderly are dying because they cannot get treatment for their chronic diseases. Pregnant women are dying or losing their babies because they cannot reach hospitals on time to get help from specialists,” he added.

Abbas stressed the urgent need for international support and better coordination of aid deliveries. “When aid convoys reach our provinces, they come with medicines that aren’t useful, such as tonnes of drugs for headaches, or food stuffs that won’t help to feed families,” he said.

Dr Aziz Ali Baroud, a physician at Najaf Main Hospital, said the region’s hospitals cannot cope with the increase in people seeking medical treatment since the beginning of 2007. As a result, there are severe shortages in specialists and in medical essentials such as paediatric needles and heart disease drugs, he said.

“At least one person dies in our hospital every day due to lack of assistance or medicines. If you add all the people dying for the same reason in all the hospitals in the southern provinces, the number becomes very serious,” Baroud said, adding that abortions have become common among displaced women unable to cope with their situation.

Difficulties in food ration delivery

Compounding the health problems the displaced face in Iraq’s southern provinces is a lack of access to food. According to Ministry of Trade officials, the continuous movement of families to southern areas has caused delays in the delivery of food rations (distributed as aid by the Ministry of Trade to help poor families registered by the government).

“Food rations are delivered every month to the distribution centres where families have registered. When they move to another area, we have to be informed of this change of address to be able to change the delivery of their aid to another area,” said Khalid Farhan, a senior official of Ministry of Trade. “But displaced families often can’t carry out these administrative procedures as they are fleeing their neighbourhoods for security reasons.”

The result is many newly displaced people do not receive food rations “for a period of time because of technical arrangements”, said Farhan.

Based on information from Najaf provincial council, at least 120,000 people in the province have not received their food rations after fleeing their homes in Baghdad or neighbouring cities.

“We have been trying to get our food rations for the past four months but we haven’t received any kind of answer. And we depend on assistance from NGOs that isn’t always available,” said Abu Hassan, 54, a displaced father of five. “We urge the government to speed up the delivery of our food rations before we die of hunger.”

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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