Caritas Jerusalem prepares for effects of war in Iraq

 If a US-lead military attack against Iraq is launched, the situation in Palestine will be affected as well. One of Caritas Jerusalem's main concerns is the possibility of reinforced closures and curfews in Palestinian villages and towns, as seen during the last Gulf war in 1991. The consequences could be limited freedom of movement of civilians and medical staff as well as lack of access to medical supplies, food and water. Caritas Jerusalem has taken several steps of emergency preparedness to be able to respond to such a scenario. Caritas' two health clinics have both purchased extra supplies and disposables. The Director of Caritas Taybeh Health Clinic, Dr Riyad Muadi said: "Shortage of medicine will be crucial. We have prepared a stock of medicine for emergency cases and bought extra supplies, such as oxygen cylinders, IV solutions, and plasma substitutes." An emergency delivery room also stands ready in both Taybeh and Aboud Health Clinic. Possible access problems of medical staff are likewise taken into account. The Director of the Aboud Health Clinic, Dr Daoud Abdeen, said: "We have made an agreement with the Parish Priest. If our Doctor and Technician cannot leave Aboud due to closure, they can sleep in the priest's home." The two clinics made agreements to get assistance from doctors from the surrounding villages, if their staff will be denied entry. In Aboud Health Clinic, the employees have been trained in evacuation procedures, crisis management, and in how to respond to various scenarios, such as a biological or a chemical attack from Iraq. The clinic has prepared informative leaflets to Aboud's population on these scenarios, only to be distributed if relevant. All the staff has just received a new cellular phone. Dr. Abdeen stresses that: "proper communication is vital in a situation of crisis. Naturally, a radio is also installed in our Ambulance". Caritas Taybeh Health Clinic has been appointed the emergency centre of the area by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. In addition to its own centres, Caritas Jerusalem has provided extra medical supplies for al-Mahabeh Clinic in Nablus, and another delivery is on its way to the Beit Umar Clinic, near Hebron. Past experiences have shown that food supplies kept in storage rooms in emergency situations is not optimal. Several storage rooms were broken into, after the Israeli military operations last spring. In Bethlehem, this too created internal strives among the Palestinian local population. Caritas Jerusalem has instead chosen a coupon system. 290 families have received a coupon worth 25 Shekel to be used in the local grocery. Water and milk is obligatory to buy, and the coupons cannot be used for alcohol. Coupons to cover gas cylinders for heating have been distributed to the families as well. The beneficiaries are poor families in Bethlehem, Jericho, Jenin and surrounding villages, and East Jerusalem. They were chosen in coordination with the local community and the Parish Priest in the respective villages. The assistance is coordinated with other NGOs providing emergency aid in these areas. The families are both Muslim and Christian. Caritas has in addition distributed almost 5000 parcels of food to families in the areas of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and in Zababdeh. This was done as part of Caritas Health Campaign which was funded by Secour Catholique. In Ramallah, Caritas has provided a smaller delivery of food, water, milk, medication, and blankets. The supplies are stored in the Al-Ahliyye College which belongs to the Latin Patriarchate. In case of a war, the Parish Priest will move into the College building. Together with the fathers and sisters of the Latin Convent, he will coordinate the distribution of the supplies among needy people in Ramallah. Caritas Jerusalem is a Catholic humanitarian organization engaged in relief, development and social service projects throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is part of Caritas Internationalis, a humanitarian network, which numbers 154 Catholic Member Organisations, including CAFOD, operating in 198 countries and territories.

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