Christian Aid update on Iraq

 Christian Aid's partners in northern Iraq report that people from the government-controlled areas of Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad are still taking refuge from the war in the Kurdish controlled areas, despite cold weather and fuel shortages. They issued this report last night. In south and central Iraq, disruption to water supplies is placing communities at risk of disease, and electricity blackouts are interfering with water purification and distribution. The blackouts are also affecting hospitals, which are already struggling to cope with large numbers of casualties without adequate supplies of medicines or equipment. Fears of an imminent food crisis remain, despite the partial resumption of the Oil for Food programme in northern Iraq. Many communities, particularly in the south and centre of Iraq, remain inaccessible to aid agencies because of the fighting, and although food is still available at local markets, stocks are dwindling and prices are out of most people's reach. Household food supplies could run out by Easter or even sooner, and shortages of fresh foods and foods rich in protein threaten to worsen malnutrition, which is already rife. Although the war is not yet over, it is clear that one of its legacies will be extremely large and dense minefields laid by Iraqi forces, particularly in areas near the border between government-controlled areas and Kurdish northern Iraq. These and other unexploded ordnance will pose a risk to civilians and their grazing animals until they are cleared. The use of cluster bombs by coalition forces is another concern, because they kill or injure indiscriminately and their contents often do not explode immediately and thus pose a long-term risk. We still have very little information about the situation in Baghdad and Basra. Both cities have sustained heavy damage to private buildings and communications systems. Safe access routes need to be opened quickly so that civilians can receive help from impartial humanitarian workers. Christian Aid's response Christian Aid is funding partner organisations to help them meet humanitarian needs arising from the war. Because our partners in northern Iraq have been engaged in long-term development work, they have been able to build on this to act quickly and appropriately. Our largest partner in northern Iraq, REACH, has been equipping communities to offer refuge to families seeking safety. REACH reports that 15,483 displaced families in Erbil and Sulaymaniya Governorates are benefiting from distributions of relief items including tents, fuel and cooking equipment, as well as mobile medical teams that visit locations where displaced people are congregating. For more information about REACH's work, read our Eyewitness report from northern Iraq. The Iraqi Refugee Aid Council (IRAC) has been funded to train 200 Iraqis who will assess humanitarian needs in the south and centre of the country and help to provide emergency and medical relief as soon as access becomes available. To protect human rights, especially in times of conflict, Human Rights Development Group are running a programme of village-based education aimed at informing people of their rights to protection under international law. Christian Aid partner The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) is providing food and essential relief items for thousands of displaced families around the cities of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul and Basra. It is purchasing supplies locally where possible but also bringing supplies into Iraq by truck, in cooperation with the Syrian and Iraqi Red Crescent. So far over 50 centres have been established and equipped to receive displaced people and these are now filling up. Those in Mosul are hosting nearly 3000 families that have fled areas in central and south Iraq. Christian Aid has also funded a mobile water treatment unit that can provide drinking water to 150,000 people per day, and this will be deployed where it is most needed as soon as possible. We are also planning to fund mobile teams to clear landmines and raise awareness of their dangers among affected communities.

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