The United Nations established over the weekend a permanent presence of humanitarian staff in war-ravaged Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. Staff from UNOHCI, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) moved from Kuwait to Basra to set up offices and living accommodation in the city.
"This is extremely important, because Basra, which has a population over a million people, has been seriously damaged in three wars - the [1980-88] Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War [of 1991] and this latest war - and has never been given the money to reconstruct properly," David Wimhurst, spokesman for the UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (UNOHCI), told IRIN in Kuwait City on Sunday.
"Even before this war, the infrastructure was in a bad way," he said. "A lot of relief is needed, especially in areas of water and sanitation, food, education, mine action and health."
In announcing this development, the UN pledged to coordinate emergency relief efforts, working with non-governmental organisations and liaising with local authorities in Basra to evaluate critical needs and provide targeted assistance to the area's most vulnerable people.
"We’ve seen an increase in stability and security on the ground in the south, which has allowed us to set up our permanent offices," Geoffrey Keele, the UNICEF spokesman, told IRIN.
UN international staff have already returned to existing offices in the capital, Baghdad, and Arbil in the north, while plans are afoot to set up new offices in other parts of the country as soon as security and other conditions allow.
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