Iraq: security fears hamper aid efforts

 Widespread looting and violence across Iraq is hampering the efforts of humanitarian agencies to provide vital assistance to thousands of Iraqis caught up in the conflict. In Baghdad, hundreds of people, fleeing the chaos and danger in the streets, are seeking refuge in emergency shelters set up in churches by CAFOD partner, Caritas Iraq. In Kuwait City CAFOD's Assessment Team are becoming increasingly concerned about how long aid agencies will have to wait before they can start their work in Basra. CAFOD's Emergency Officer, Alistair Dutton, who is in Kuwait City, said: "It is just not safe for us to go into the city at the moment and we are getting more and more worried about how long it will be before we can do so. We appreciate that the military have other concerns but it is vital that the hospitals are able to operate and that the water supply is functioning. Things really need to be brought under control now as the rioting and looting could create a vicious cycle - people with no access to food or water may resort to looting out of sheer desperation." Under the terms of the Geneva Conventions, which were drawn up to protect civilians in the event of war, the occupying forces are legally bound to ensure a safe environment in which aid agencies can operate. CAFOD's emergency assessment team are working on behalf of Caritas International, the worldwide network of Catholic aid agencies. They want to make contact with the health centres set up by their partners Caritas Iraq as soon as possible so they can provide immediate support and humanitarian relief. They have heard nothing from staff at the centres for almost a week. "The longer we are unable to operate the more worried we become as realistically it takes some time to get any aid operation working properly. We saw first hand how long it took to get the aid distribution working in Umm Qsar a town of 40,000 people which does not bode well for Basra a city of over a million", added Alistair Dutton. Source: CAFOD

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