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Iraq: millions struggle to cope with the impact of five years of war

17-03-2008 News Release 08/46

Geneva (ICRC) – Five years after the outbreak of the war in Iraq, the humanitarian situation in most of the country is among the most critical in the world, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report issued today.

 Because of the conflict, millions of Iraqis have insufficient access to clean water, sanitation and health care. The current crisis is exacerbated by the lasting effects of previous armed conflicts and years of sanctions.

“Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have essentially been left to their own devices,” said Béatrice Mégevand Roggo, the ICRC’s head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa. “Among them are displaced and refugee families, and those who have returned to their homes, children, elderly people, disabled people, households headed by women and families of detainees.”

Although security has improved in some parts of the country, Iraqis continue to be killed or injured on a daily basis in fighting and attacks. Civilians are often deliberately targeted, in complete disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law. In many families there is at least one person who is sick, injured, missing or detained, or who has been forced to flee from home and live far away.

Health care, water and sanitation services and electricity supplies remain largely inadequate. Hospitals lack qualified staff and basic drugs, and therefore struggle to provide suitable care for the injured. Many health-care facilities have not been properly maintained, and the care they provide is often too expensive for ordinary Iraqis.

The water supply has continued to deteriorate over the past year. Millions of people have been forced to rely on insufficient supplies of poor-quality water as water and sewage systems suffer from a lack of maintenance and a shortage of engineers.

The ICRC regularly provides medical assistance and drugs for hospitals and carries out important repairs to water and sanitation systems. However, this is far from sufficient to ensure that all Iraqis have adequate access to these basic services.

“To avert an even worse crisis, more attention must be paid to the everyday needs of Iraqis,” said Ms Mégevand Roggo. “Everyone should have regular access to health care, electricity, clean water and sanitation.” The ICRC also called on those involved in the conflict and those who can influence them to do everything possible to ensure that civilians, medical staff and medical facilities are not harmed. This is an obligation under international humanitarian law that applies to all parties to an armed conflict – both States and non-State actors.

For further information, please contact:
  Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 93 18 or +41 22 730 25 90
  Hicham Hassan, ICRC Iraq, tel: +962 777 399 614 or +962 6 552 39 94