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UN international humanitarian staff return to the north

Six UN international humanitarian staff crossed from southeastern Turkey into Northern Iraq on Wednesday afternoon, according to UN humanitarian officials in Turkey. The group included Arnt Breivik, the emergency coordinator for the northern governorates for the World Food Programme (WFP), and Andre Laperriere, the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) for Northern Iraq.

"This is a big breakthrough as it is the first time that UN international humanitarian staff have been able to return to northern Iraq to resume the work they were doing before the war," Andrea Recchia, a humanitarian affairs officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told IRIN in the Turkish capital, Ankara. "They will provide much-needed support to our local staff, who have been doing an excellent job in the interim period."

A WFP spokeswoman, Heather Hill, said her organisation was very pleased that Breivik had been able to return to northern Iraq. "We expect six programme officers to cross in the next few days," she said. "We look forward to working with our dedicated national staff, who have continued to distribute food even under difficult circumstances."

In a further development, a UNICEF spokeswoman, Ruth Leano, told IRIN from the Turkish border town of Silopi that 28 UN international staff of various agencies had arrived in the eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday afternoon. "They are expected to proceed to Silopi and cross the border tomorrow [Thursday]," she said.

She noted that 22 trucks carrying US $1.8 million worth of a wide variety of health, education, water and sanitation supplies, provided by UNICEF, had crossed the border into northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, as food stocks in the Kurdish-controlled areas approach prewar food-security levels, the WFP is endeavouring to penetrate Northern Iraq beyond the governorates of Arbil, Kirkuk and As-Sulaymaniyah.

"This new outreach will enable us to respond to spot appeals for aid," Hill explained, citing a request made by the Mosul health ministry for food aid for patients in the general hospitals in the city. The food agency is conducting a rapid assessment of the 14 hospitals identified by the health authorities, with a combined bed capacity of 2,661.

According to the WFP official, food supplies to Iraq via Turkey have increased dramatically. As of Wednesday morning, the food agency had dispatched 1,607 trucks containing over 38,000 mt of food, enough to feed 2.7 million people for one month.

In the three Kurdish provinces, which were the major targets of this route, about 3.6 million people are benefiting from these food supplies. On Tuesday, nearly 4,000 mt were dispatched from Turkey, and WFP is working to increase the daily average even further.

On Wednesday morning, a massive convoy of close to 200 trucks, carrying over 4,000 mt of food, left Dahuk for three different destinations, including Kirkuk. "Twenty-one trucks are due to arrive in Kirkuk," Hill explained, noting that this would be the first aid consignment for the city since the conflict began on 20 March.

The trucks are taking what is called the "front road", a direct route from Dahuk via Mosul that cuts the driving time down to some five hours. WFP staff have already prepared the warehouse in Kirkuk for the reception of the food, cleaning the facility and repairing damage done by looters. The delivery is particularly significant as the warehouse is virtually empty, containing only 328 mt of vegetable oil.

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

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