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Humanitarian aid slow to arrive

With aid organisations slowly arriving in the south of Iraq, the first steps are being taken towards getting much-needed supplies to those most in need. However, despite most of the south having fallen to coalition troops several weeks ago, only limited assistance is actually reaching the region as concerns persist over safety.

Some aid organisations that have made initial trips into the country from Kuwait are still assessing security or needs before starting to bring aid in.

A spokeswoman for Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) Holland, Susanne Staals, said staff were still looking into where the needs were, and trying to move beyond the main southern city of Basra to more rural areas. At the moment, MSF teams were not staying in Iraq overnight because of security concerns, but hoped to establish a base in Basra by next week.

Save the Children made its first visit to Basra at the weekend to assess the situation. Once the area was deemed by coalition forces to be "permissive", or largely safe to operate in, it would set up a regional office and begin delivering aid.

A team from the Mercy Corps aid organisation recently made its first trip to southern Iraq to check on security. Its spokeswoman, Cassandra Nelson, told IRIN from Kuwait City that a 10-member team would head back by the end of this week and try to open an office in the city of Al-Kut, northwest of Basra. She said Mercy Corps was the first aid organisation to arrive in Al-Kut and Ad-Diwaniyah, and people were eager to get help.

While the team had not done an in-depth assessment of needs, water, sanitation and medical supplies were obviously priorities. "The clock is ticking, so we want to get in there quickly," she said.

While some of the areas they visited seemed safe, Nelson again stressed the need for coalition forces to concentrate on the security situation and provide a suitable environment for aid agencies to work in. She said the political situation in Iraq was currently very unsettled, with many people vying for power. “ I think the coming months will be very volatile, very dynamic, and the coalition have to really concentrate on this."

Col Kevin McAleese, the director of the United States Army's Humanitarian Assistance Centre (HAC), said in Basra that he was encouraging NGOs to enter Iraq and get involved in helping the people recover. To this end, the army would give them as much help as they wanted. Within two weeks he hoped to have a base established in Basra for the 170-member US Army Civil Affairs team in the south.

Not only would civil affairs units be directly involved with providing aid in such areas as health, education, food, water and nutrition but they could also facilitate the work of NGOs, he said.

McAleese said the army recognised the need to get life back to normal and people back to work. "And if we can jump-start that and make [NGOs] feel safe, then that's great."

Meanwhile, UN operations in southern Iraq continue to be limited by security concerns, although UN officials believe that international staff will begin to enter the region very shortly.

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:

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