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Iraq: Daily bulletin – 12 April 2003

12-04-2003 Operational Update

Latest reports from ICRC staff in Baghdad, Basra and Erbil

 BAGHDAD (12 April)

The need for security was still the main concern, particularly for vitally important installations and services such as medical facilities, water supply systems and sewage evacuation facilities. Only if these facilities are protected against looters, armed robbers and other armed groups will their staff be able to resume work. Considerable damage has been done and a lot of materials, machines and vehicles indispensable to save lives in hospitals and maintain water supplies have been looted. Means of carrying out repairs and refurbishment must be found without delay.

(11 April)

 General situation  

For the second day running, Baghdad was the scene of widespread ransacking and looting. Bursts of gunfire were sometimes heard in the distance. Many residential streets were blocked with stones, tree branches or abandoned pieces of furniture to prevent cars from entering. Terrified residents barricaded themselves inside their homes, too frightened to venture outside or consider returning to work.

 Medical and surgical care  

The medical system of Baghdad had virtually collapsed, totally disrupted by the insecurity and the looting.

 Medical City complex : There are four hospitals in this complex, which until recently was the hospital showpiece in Baghdad with 1,400 beds for war-wounded and all medical specializations availab le.

On 8 April, ambulances were arriving at the complex one after another and hundreds of patients were admitted. The ICRC medical coordinator had visited the triage and emergency centre, which could handle 100 patients at any one time, and found that that the complex was a perfect example of mass casualty management.

On 11 April, it was in total chaos. Part of it had been looted before the protection of the Coalition forces was put in place. The triage and emergency units were completely disorganized. Because

ambulances were being looted throughout the city, there was no ambulance service. No new

patients were being admitted. Only a few surgeons and one or two nurses were present in the hospitals, each with 600 beds. There were no administrative, cleaning or kitchen staff. And there were still 300 patients to care for.

First and foremost, the hospital complex needs security so that, hopefully, medical and support staff can return to work and the transport of patients be resumed. Then electricity and water supplies must urgently be restored and food and other supplies brought in.

 Al Kindi hospital: On 8 April the hospital, like Medical City, was working efficiently, receiving many war-wounded and capably managing mass casualties. On 11h April it, too, was in total chaos after being attacked and looted by armed people. There was only one medical doctor present and no surgeons. Some patients were found lying on the floor. Medical and other supplies were scattered all over the place.

 Ibn Nafis hospital was given a first aid kit on 11 April, as it was still receiving some patients, and 50 body bags.

 Water and sanitation  

The widespread vandalism of hospitals and some water supply systems, in addition to the previous damage and shortages resulting from military operations, has made it even harder for health and water professionals to keep essential public services running. With continued power cuts for more than a week throughout the capital, and the direct or indirect impact of vandalism, new critical needs have emerged. The Baghdad water authorities (BWA) have reported the loss of all their assets and warehouse materials, including all spare parts, vehicles and other equipment. On 11 April, only two technicians and one contractor showed up at the delegation, as the others stayed at home to protect their property from looters. Nevertheless, the ICRC team resumed their general needs assessments and emergency engineering work at the Medical City hospital complex.

Major water treatment plants are operational at about 40-50% of their normal capacity, but thanks to low demand (no demand from industry, etc.) this may be enough for the time being to cover the Baghdad inhabitants’ basic needs if the plants are not vandalized. However, the Rasafa area in Baghdad remains a prime concern, since it is no longer supplied with tap water. Most tankers of the water transport contractors hired by the ICRC to serve that and other areas have been looted and most of the water bladder tanks and distribution ramps installed earlier by the ICRC are gone. The ICRC team made a rapid assessment of the Qana water pumping station supplying that part of the city, and one priority will now be to get it and the connected water treatment works back into operation to bring clean water back to Rasafa.

An important meeting was held at the ICRC delegation with the three most senior BWA staff and the US civil affairs coordinators to discuss the present water and power situation in Baghdad and how BWA professionals can be brought in to restore essential water services in the days ahead. The ICRC played a key role in making this first contact possible. The BWA and the US military agreed on priority action to be taken, especially the immediate military protection of key water treatment works. As a direct result of this meeting, one of the largest waterworks in Baghdad, Saba-Nissan, has been protected since 11 April by US forces and repair and maintenance work will be resumed immediately, together with Baghdad water authority technicians. Consequently, for most parts of Baghdad the risk of water shortages should be avoided.

The meeting also agreed on a list of main water installations to be protected by US forces within the next few days. Further measures will be discussed and implemented shortly for the city of Baghdad and the Baghdad governorate.

 Family links  

Attempts to contact Iraqi officials to press for information on the whereabouts of the Coalition POWs have hitherto failed.

Over the past three days, 365 messages from families in Baghdad have been faxed to ICRC Geneva for transmission to relatives abroad and the Baghdad delegation arranged for 109 phone calls between family members who had had no news for days or weeks. This important service continues to be provided for families who wish to reassure relatives with whom they are no longer able to communicate.

The two missing members of MSF, two missing members of Islamic Relief, a Japanese journalist and two translators (from Jordan and Pakistan) were released after many days held in a Baghdad jail. They were able to reach the ICRC delegation by their own means.

 BASRA (11 April)

 General situation  

The security situation in Basra has improved marginally. Where possible, UK forces provide security for key facilities.

The ICRC is facilitating contacts between UK forces and Iraqi administrative and technical staff, with a view to restarting some basic civilian administrative and other services.

Three additional delegates arrived in Basra from Kuwait to supplement the team. There are now 7 expatriate staff working there alongside a team of Iraqi staff

 Assistance  

Food and blankets were delivered to 15 inhabitants of an old people's home-cum-orphanage housing 12 elderly people and 3 orphans, which had been looted on 6 April.

 Water and power supplies  

Repair work was completed on Bradayia water treatment plant and on high tension lines to restart the main power generating plant in Basra. However, the plants could not be put into operation before the installation of new batteries (planned for the same evening by the Iraqi electrical department).

 ERBIL (11 April)

  Protection  

The ICRC visited one prisoner of war and three civilian internees in a US camp in Erbil governorate. An additional 48 prisoners arrived at the same camp late in the afternoon. The ICRC planned to return to the camp on 12 April.

 Assistance to displaced persons  

Following an assessment in the Delezha area of the Suleymanieh governorate on 10 April, non-food assistance was provided to 22 families (113 persons).

(Please see http://www.familylinks.icrc.org for information on this programme).