In a flood of tears, praising and thanking God, Um Kasser, a mother of five, collected food supplies from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), which was recently allowed to enter the troubled city of Fallujah, some 60 km west of Baghdad.
"We were eating flour mixed with dirty water during those days because we couldn't leave our homes to get food or clean water.
I felt like I was going to die holding my sons. God bless the IRCS staff who reached us in time to save our lives," she told IRIN in Fallujah, where the conflict between US soldiers and insurgents has raged on for more than three weeks.
Um Kasser wasn't able to flee the city when the fighting started, saying she thought it would be over in a few days. With a total population of 290,000 people, it is estimated that half has left the city.
Those families who stayed behind are now reeling from the effects of the battles in the city. Many have fallen ill due to poor sanitation and dirty drinking water as supplies were cut off, local doctors say.
A spokeswoman for the IRCS, Firdoos al-Abadi, told IRIN they have delivered food and clean water to nearly 100 people who were able to get to their office in Fallujah.
She said that most of the children in the town were sick and in need of urgent medical help. Also, injured people stuck in their homes were unable to get help as the ICRS was not allowed to distribute food due to security issues and they were not able to move to the centre for supplies.
"It is complicated even to treat the injured people due to the curfew that prohibits us from moving around the city. Men aged between 15 and 55 years cannot be seen on the streets as they could be mistaken for insurgents by US-led forces," al-Abadi added. US troops say they have enforced the rule in the city to help maintain safety and security.
The issue of treatment for the injured is of great concern to doctors in the area. According to officials at the main hospital across the Euphrates river, few injured people have been treated yet. Doctors believe that many are stuck indoors afraid to move outside because of the curfew imposed on men.
Dr Hussam al-Jumaili told IRIN that they have been trying to get authorisation to bring injured people to be treated in the hospital but that US troops had refused, saying it is still not safe for them to move around the city under the circumstances. Al-Jumaili added that the only cases treated in the hospital were related to chronic heart disease, fever and dehydration.
The IRCS said that their next step was to get authorisation to take injured people out of the city. "They need help and injured people need very urgent treatment. We hope to get this authorisation in the next couple of days," al-Abadi added.
However, the aid organisation did have success in taking nearly 20 people, mostly women and children, to safer areas around Fallujah.
Meanwhile, US military officials are keeping a close eye on aid deliveries to ensure that they do not contain weapons or supplies for the insurgents, searching vehicles entering the city.
There were signs of joy for those who managed to reach the IRCS office. "They are happy. It is not only a health need, it is also a psychological need to have someone to talk to when you are surrounded by dead bodies. Some people have been subjected to trauma," al-Abadi explained.
Children who were brought by their mothers to the IRCS centre were looking dehydrated and were suffering from skin diseases because of a lack of water and proper hygiene. Their eyes were searching for a place of warmth and security.
"My nephew cries every night asking God to take him with the angels, so he doesn't have to hear the horrible explosions anymore," Salsam Omar, a resident of Fallujah told IRIN.
Approximately 70 percent of the houses and shops were destroyed in the city and those still standing are riddled with bullets. The heavy presence of US tanks fills the streets.
Aid workers have even gone as far as cooking hot fresh food. Children were very happy to receive this after nearly a month under seige. "Eating this food is like eating it for the first time in my life. It is tasty. I thank God," Omar told IRIN after receiving her fresh food parcel from an IRCS staff member.
According to officials, a convoy carrying aid, which includes 200 tents, 1,000 blankets, 500 pillows, foodstuffs, drinking water, medicine and soap, left the main office in Baghdad on Tuesday morning bound for Fallujah, but much more is required to guarantee safety and health to civilians in the city.
"It's a good start in the meantime. We hope that in the coming days this partnership can be done on a greater level and all people in Fallujah and outside it receive help. But it will take time to repair the damaged buildings," Lt Col Ed Ramos, a US marine official, told IRIN in Fallujah.
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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