The first humanitarian assessment missions conducted jointly by UN agencies in the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq have identified a lack of clean drinking water as a matter of primary concern - a problem that predates the war, when the town’s needs were met by water tankers, IRIN learnt on Wednesday.
The assessments, several of which have been conducted in recent days by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the office of the UN Security Coordinator, as well as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), have found that potable water is available throughout the town, but in insufficient quantity. The sale of water by tanker drivers also remains a problem, as residents do not have the means to purchase it.
UNICEF reported that it would truck water from Kuwait for Umm Qasr’s hospital and primary health care unit, and fit temporary water storage and pumping systems at those facilities as a matter of priority, while additional temporary storage and pumping would be established at selected points in and around the town. UNICEF also said it would work towards reactivating existing Iraqi water and sanitation systems and personnel.
On the food front, WFP said that as there was "no crisis" at present, no distributions were planned for the moment as residents were believed to have food supplies sufficient to last until the end of May. However, a WFP representative in Kuwait, Russ Ulrey, told IRIN that WFP expected to start distributing food rations in May as food stocks for June. However, he cautioned that no household food security assessments had yet been conducted, so more precise information on the situation remained to be gathered.
According to WFP, some 30 of an estimated 55 food agents remain in Umm Qasr - others having fled - and have expressed their willingness to return to work. Food agents played a key role in the Oil-for-Food programme. The food ration card system also remains in place, and WFP says it believes it would be possible to restart the system quickly.
On the medical front, UNICEF warned of a shortage of measles, hepatitis and BCG vaccines, another situation that predates the war. The agency also reported that while there was a three-month supply of most essential drugs available in Umm Qasr hospital, heavy use of the facility (200 to 300 patients per week) may have reduced stocks considerably. It said that the vaccines, as well as oral rehydration salts, which were found to be in short supply, would be procured "immediately".
Of more immediate concern, however, was the fact that emergency services were no longer provided by the Umm Qasr hospital, and patients remained unable to travel to Basra for treatment.
Finally, Umm Qasr’s port was reported by the UN agencies to be in "excellent" condition, but without electricity. The UK military has stated that backup generators would be up and running imminently. The port has 21 warehouses of about 2,000 square metres each, half of which are reported to be empty. The port is expected to be fully operational for the offloading of ships of up to 11.5 metres draft within three weeks, while other pier-side operations would be possible within the coming week.
Information collected on rapid assessment forms by the UN, NGOs, and other agencies is being compiled by the UN Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) in Larnaca, Cyprus, for reference and analysis by all interested parties.
"If we get good information in, we can produce good products to support the various sectors and humanitarian agencies," Joseph Donahue, the information management officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told IRIN on Wednesday. The information collected by the HIC, as well as its outputs - including tabular displays of data, maps, and narrative reports by sector leaders - are available on its website, www.agoodplacetostart.org
The UN assessments follow an initial assessment in Umm Qasr by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which was the first humanitarian needs assessment to emerge, with information on security, food, water, health, protection, electricity and schools. [See earlier IRIN report, "Initial humanitarian assessment of Umm Qasr completed"]
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