UN humanitarian briefing in Amman, Jordan
Fadela Chaib, WHO spokeswoman
Reports from Basra indicate that at least half of the civilian population still lacks access to safe, clean drinking water. This situation has continued since late on Friday, despite the best efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to gain access to the key water plants and restore supplies.
In addition to the lack of water, many are also without electricity. In these circumstances, it is hard to keep food safe and to maintain hygiene. Levels of disease - especially among children - will be rising daily. The public health staff who work in WHO are increasingly concerned. Dysentery and typhoid are serious risks, and they will have a serious impact. We have seen such outbreaks in this area in the recent past and are concerned that this situation could worsen rapidly.
The WHO Iraq team, in Baghdad, is waiting for an opportunity to travel to Basra and help ensure the best ways of safeguarding the health of civilians, as well as those affected by water and power problems. Currently, the security situation prevents them from travelling, but as soon as the situation changes they will move to Basra to assist the local health authorities. WHO also has teams in neighbouring countries who are ready to assist in responding to any outbreaks of infectious disease.
Civilian deaths in Baghdad
The World Health Organization is deeply concerned by reports of a number of civilian deaths in a Baghdad market on Wednesday morning. Civilian injuries also inevitably increase the pressure on already-stretched hospitals and other health infrastructure.
WHO staff have been investigating reports of an outbreak of diarrhoeal disease in the Chawarback camp close to the Iranian border in the Northern Governorate of Suleimaniya. Diarrhoeal disease is one of the three main child killers in Iraq. The team continues to monitor the situation, which for now appears to be under control.
Two WHO rapid assessment teams have also been sent to the area of Bazyan following reports that large numbers of people were moving from Chamchamal. Each team consists of a WHO medical officer, a WHO pharmacist and a WHO sanitary engineer, as well as an official from the department of health and a nutrition adviser from UNICEF. They will be assessing emergency health needs among the local population and those who have moved to the area.
Currently, supplies of most medicines are adequate, although shortages are being reported in some emergency supplies. WHO is working to replenish these supplies. WHO is also ready to supply fuel for hospitals if they report critical shortages.
For further information 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 Co-ordonator, Larnaca (+4179 509 0640);
Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive Director, Geneva (+41 22 791 2363, +41 79 217 3446)