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Iraq bulletin - 24 April 2003

24-04-2003 Operational Update

Latest reports from ICRC staff in the field. Lack of security and administrative structures still a major problem for hospitals and other essential services - ICRC reminds Occupying Power of its responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions in that respect

 BAGHDAD (covering 22-24 April)

As electricity is gradually restored across Baghdad, security in the capital continues to improve, although confusion remains as to who is taking care of the administration of basic services. Shooting can still be heard at night and some looting is still taking place.

An ICRC flight arrived in Baghdad today, bringing in eight additional staff; it returned to Kuwait with the staff who had remained in Baghdad during the war and its subsequent chaos.

 Health-related matters require urgent attention  

During several meetings with US civil and military officials, the ICRC drew their attention to different measures urgently required to improve basic services for the population as part of the responsibility of the US as Occupying Power under the fourth Geneva Convention. With next to no administrative structures and an institutional vacuum affecting the system, hospital staff have not been paid for a long time and can only address the most immediate needs. As a result, most hospitals are only functioning at a very limited capacity. Lack of security is still dissuading many from going to work.

The ICRC remains concerned about the situation at Rustumiya waste-water-treatment plant, which normally treats sewage collected at several smaller sewage-pumping stations. Rustumiya is currently not working because of a lack of electrical power and the absence of staff caused, among other fac tors, by insufficient security at the plant.

The ICRC team visited several hospitals to get a clearer idea of their problems and needs. Ibn Nafees hospital (500 beds) currently only has 50 hospitalized patients and can only provide emergency services such as surgery and internal medicine. Only very few doctors and nurses are on duty and key services such as the pharmacy, laundry and kitchen are in disarray. There is no immediate need for drugs but the staff are concerned about their salaries and their practical difficulties in actually getting to work. In al Yarmouk hospital the situation is similar: following heavy damage during the hostilities it is currently only treating outpatients. The staff there are equally frustrated because of the lack of salaries and administrative structures.

 KIRKUK  

An ICRC team visited Kirkuk on 22 April. The situation there had calmed down considerably compared to the previous visit. The atmosphere was more relaxed and police were more visible and present in the streets, though isolated gunfire could still be heard. Hospitals have returned to their pre-war working schedules. One problem is the continuing confusion over who is effectively in charge of key departments and services. While in Kirkuk, the team collected data concerning the mortal remains of 18 people, with a view to future identification.

The ICRC has now ended its activities to help internally displaced persons in Diana (Arbil governorate) since most of them have gone back home. Since 20 March, 228 families have been assisted with non-food items such as cooking stoves, heaters, hygiene parcels and blankets.

 IRAN / IRAQ  

An ICRC assessment mission is expected to leave Kermanshah to day for al Kut (Iraq) for three days. Delegates plan to assess the situation in the hospital and investigate the problems affecting the water- and power-supply systems. The team will bring with it some emergency health kits as well as jerry cans donated by the Iran Red Crescent Society.

 RESTORING CONTACT BETWEEN FAMILY MEMBERS  

 Baghdad: on 22 and 23 April the delegation collected 319 " safe and well " messages from Iraqis eager to contact their family members abroad.

 Northern Iraq: the ICRC plans to distribute posters in all call centres and Internet cafés in Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniya to inform the public about its family-tracing web site: http://www.familylinks.icrc.org .

 Southern Iraq: the ICRC is giving Iraqis in Basra the possibility to contact family members abroad by satellite telephone or Red Cross message. By 23 April 657 calls had been placed and 102 messages collected.

 Syria: several hundred third-party nationals (especially Sudanese) and Iraqi refugees staying in two camps have been given the opportunity to contact their families. The ICRC, working with volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has so far facilitated 480 satellite phone calls and collected 55 " safe and well " Red Cross messages.

By 18 April the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of 28 countries had distributed 1,008 " safe and well " messages written by Iraqi citizens to family members abroad in more than 50 countries. The top five destinations were Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Sweden and the United States. Meanwhile, a team of up to 50 ICRC staff stationed near Geneva continues to receive and process dozens of tracing requests every day.