After weeks of waiting, aid agencies in Kuwait are finally beginning to cross into Iraq to begin humanitarian work. Many NGOs had stayed put in Kuwait as war erupted across the border, followed by instability and looting, preventing their entry. Some NGOs have made initial visits to Iraq from Kuwait, but most have been restricted to the southern port of Umm Qasr. However, while there are still considerable security concerns in southern Iraq, two more NGOs are set to move into the country on Tuesday, with another following the next day.
Norman Sheehan, a director of the international NGO War Child, told IRIN in Kuwait on the eve of his departure that he would be heading into the country to look for the best place to set up a bakery. He would first travel to Nasiriyah, and expected to be in Iraq for one to two weeks.
Subsequently, a US $150,000 oven purchased with funding from the UK Department for International Development would be ready for transporting to Iraq, he said. The bakery, which could be running within three weeks, would be able to produce up to 240,000 loaves of Arab-style bread each day with 10 workers operating per shift.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) would ensure the bakery was supplied with flour, and the bread produced would be targeted at the most vulnerable people to supplement their food rations. If the initial project was successful, Sheehan said, the bakery could be expanded or another set up.
But the aim was that within four months, War Child would hand the bakery over to the local community as part of rebuilding the country's infrastructure. In spite of the fact that security remained a concern, Sheehan said, it was nevertheless time to get into Iraq and get to work.
"If I sit here and wait for [others] it's not going to happen," he said. So far, agencies had only made brief trips to Iraq, but this had not allowed any trust to be built up with the community, he noted.
A spokesman for the Irish NGO GOAL, Ray Jordan, told IRIN in Kuwait City that his group was also moving into Iraq on Tuesday and would also be going to Nasiriyah. Once there, it would help WFP and the International Organisation for Migration to deal with internally displaced people, and then later work on water, sanitation and health projects. He had been waiting since January to get into Iraq, and said he would be pleased to be finally entering. He noted, however, that having the long build-up had provided some benefits inasmuch as it had served to bring about better understanding and coordination between NGOs in the region.
Cassandra Nelson, the spokeswoman for Mercy Corps in Kuwait, agreed, saying that too often in emergencies there was no opportunity to share information among aid organisations as they all rushed in to help, "but because we've all been stuck here, it's given us a real chance to organise and coordinate activities".
Mercy Corps was planning an initial trip to Basra, Iraq's main southern city, on Wednesday, and Nelson believes that the time spent waiting will lead to more efficiency and better services for the Iraqi people.
However, she nevertheless expressed concerns about the security situation, saying that weeks after coalition forces had taken certain areas, insecurity persisted. Nelson said there was a danger that frustrated aid agencies would rush in before things were secure, although all were making their own security assessments, as well as drawing on information from the UN and others.
"Now it's reached the boiling point of people wanting to get in," she asserted.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions