WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian briefing
4 April 2003

Civilian Casualties

The World Health Organization is receiving reports of growing numbers of civilian casualties, in and around Baghdad, Basra and many other towns in southern and central Iraq. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports a particularly disturbing situation in the town of Al Hillah, where some 280 people are reported to have been injured. The hospital there is overwhelmed with patients and is struggling to cope. In the South, Jumhuriyah Hospital in the centre of Basrah was partially damaged and an unknown number of people were injured. WHO is deeply concerned that injuries suffered as a direct result of this conflict are the number one public health problem in Iraq today. WHO again reminds all parties to the conflict of their obligations under humanitarian law to respect the neutrality of civilians and especially that of hospitals, health workers and the entire medical infrastructure.


The issue of negotiated access for humanitarian work is increasingly urgent. Some humanitarian agencies are able to access parts of southern Iraq, but large areas are still completely off-limits for all humanitarian work. It is vitally important that all parties in the conflict recognise the right of civilians to have access to healthcare and other humanitarian assistance. Towns and Cities are increasingly being cut off. Shortages of medicines and medical supplies are threatened. Hospitals may no longer be able to cope. Public health will become an overwhelming concern. Speeding up the delivery of medical supplies is therefore essential in order to build up a pipeline of emergency stocks.


Overnight, the power supply to Baghdad was cut and that has disrupted the water pumping system. Many people therefore lack access to their regular supply of clean, safe drinking water. In southern Iraq, the International Committee of the Red Cross reports that as many as 1.5 million people lack access to a safe water supply. As temperatures rise across Iraq, a shortage of clean water will almost inevitably cause outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease and other health problems. The ICRC continued repairs to the water- and power-supply systems in 7 hospitals and provided 10,000 1-litre bags of drinking water to 2 hospitals (Al-Qadissiyah and Ibn Al-Nafees). Two important water-treatment plants (at Shaebe and Al-Zubayr) were also restored to operation following work carried out by ICRC technicians and local engineers from Basra. More than 80,000 people who have been without piped water since March 22 are now connected again, including people in Safwan.


A team re-visited Kanpanka (Pop. 2700) 20 Km east of Suleimaniya to investigate the 20 measles cases reported during the period 24-31 March among children aged 6-15 years. The cases were confirmed as measles. No new cases were found. The health centre was advised on case management and preventive measures and was supplied with the drugs and vaccines for all children aged

For further information, please contact WHO spokespersons Fadela Chaib in Amman (00 4179 475 5556) or Iain Simpson in Geneva (00 4179 475 5534)

The following WHO specialists are available to respond to media questions: Dr G Popal, Head of the WHO country office in Iraq (+962 795 7092); Dr Mohamed Jama, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Cairo (+202 276 5026 ); Dr Jim Tulloch, WHO Regional Health Coordinator, (+4179 509 0640); Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive Director, Geneva (+41 22 791 2363, +41 79 217 3446)