UN food ships converge on Iraq as health teams fan out across

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities that ships were arriving in the region with tens of thousands of tons of food and staff members were working around Iraq to assess the conditions of silos, mills, warehouses and food agents.”The WFP logistical machine continues to build up steam as we race to ensure that 27 million Iraqis can again head to the food agents in their neighbourhoods and receive their regular monthly rations in May,” spokesman Khaled Mansour said.The unloading of 28,500 tons of wheat from the United States, the largest in-kind contribution to the WFP emergency in Iraq, continued in Mersin, Turkey, over the weekend and was expected to be completed tonight. A further 37,000 tons of wheat from Russia purchased under an old contract from the UN Oil-for-Food programme was scheduled to begin unloading tomorrow in the port of Toros, also in Turkey.An Oil-for-Food shipment of 32,500 tons of food reached Aqaba, Jordan, yesterday from Thailand, while a second Oil-for-Food shipment of 50,000 tons of wheat grain from Australia arrived there on Saturday. Since the war, the UN Security Council has entrusted Secretary-General Kofi Annan with administering humanitarian supplies from the programme, under which Iraq was allowed to use a portion of its oil revenues for food and medical purchases.For its part the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was rapidly expanding its work around Iraq, from Mosul and Kirkuk in the north, to Tikrit, Diyala, Baghdad, Nasiriya and Basra in the south.”WHO’s national staff – 327 – have been working flat out to support the re-establishment of the health situation in Iraq,” spokesperson Fadela Chaib told the briefing. She added that where needed, WHO was coordinating delivery of essential supplies and equipment, and was on the alert to detect and respond to disease outbreaks. The agency was also carefully monitoring hospital security, the status of essential services including water and electricity, and the overall condition of health facilities.As an example, Ms. Chaib cited a recent urgent request from Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad for insulin, as the hospital had completely run out of the life-saving medication for diabetes. WHO in Jordan purchased 600 vials – each vial lasts a patient two to four weeks – rented a taxi and sent it back to Baghdad, ensuring replenishment of stocks only hours after the initial request. The Jordan office has 2,500 more vials of insulin ready to go.The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) said water was now available in Baghdad but at very low pressure and households needed to collect it from the main tap, normally located next to the main door, and boil it before drinking. Water supply was gradually improving, but chemicals for water treatment were in short supply.Spokesperson Veronique Taveau said a UN inter-agency mission reached Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, yesterday to carry out a humanitarian assessment. The situation there was improving but still tense, she added. Water supply remained inadequate in many areas, garbage collection was problematic and there were occasional blackouts. All hospitals were functional and protected by the military and 50 per cent of staff were reporting to work.The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said some schools in the south were reopening but in many cases, it was simply not possible yet. As an example, spokesman Simon Ingram cited Az-Zubair, where out of 124 schools five were completely destroyed in the war and 40 more were thoroughly looted. UNICEF was helping to make up the shortages by distributing “school-in-a-box” kits, each of which provides basic classroom materials for up to 80 children.”It’s a start, but only a start,” Mr. Ingram added.

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