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“Pressing need” for drinking water in Basra as curfew bites

[Iraq] The main hospital in Basra, repaired after last war.
The main hospital in Basra. A curfew and continuing street clashes are preventing residents from getting to hospitals for treatment (IRIN)

Life in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, has been paralysed by a large-scale government military operation against militiamen of the Mahdi Army led by radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the city’s Human Rights Office said on 25 March.

The Iraqi government imposed an indefinite curfew at dawn on 25 March. No one is allowed between neighbourhoods and there are checkpoints in place to ensure this.

“The most pressing need is drinking water, as Basra residents depend on bottled mineral water because they do not drink tap water - first because of contamination and second because of its high salinity,” al-Tamimi told IRIN.

“This is a catastrophe that could lead to a huge problem as we are entering summer and, of course, if it continues like this, it will lead to waterborne diseases including diarrhoea,“ he said.

“All aspects of life have been paralysed with the closure of schools, government offices and markets due to clashes that have forced people indoors with not enough food as there was no prior notice for this operation,” said al-Tamimi.

IDPs affected

Al-Tamimi said the curfew and continuing street clashes meant residents could not get to hospitals for treatment and aid operations had been suspended, especially for internally displaced persons (IPDs).

Basra is home to 5,707 displaced families, about 34,172 individuals, most of whom live in makeshift camps, according to figures from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) on 27 January.

“I call upon the government to allow our teams at least to help distribute drinking water and to help and protect all humanitarian teams to do their normal work in helping displaced families,” Al-Tamimi said.

On 22 February, al-Sadr announced a six-month extension to his militia’s unilateral cease-fire in a move that was widely seen as designed to improve security in war-torn Iraq.

“This [the military crackdown] could break the cease-fire,” said Hazim Yassin al-Saffar, a Basra-based political analyst. “It is clear the government has not realised that this [Sadrist] trend has deep roots in Iraqi society and cannot be treated like this,” said al-Saffar, who lectures in international law at the University of Basra.

Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army was formed in the months after the US-led invasion in 2003 and launched two major uprisings against US-led forces in 2007.

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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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