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Annan’s Aide Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Iraq

Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Reuters 

AMMAN, 30 July 2004 "Arab News"
A humanitarian crisis could erupt in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra with the shortage of drinking water at the peak of summer made worse by power cuts, a senior UN official warned yesterday. “We are confronting a potential serious humanitarian crisis,” Ross Mountain, acting special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, told Reuters in Amman.

“We have no indication that there is anywhere else in the country that is facing this kind of crisis. Nobody is facing 50 degree (Celsius) temperatures with less than half the supply of water required... There is nowhere as bad as the Basra area.”

The impoverished southern city has always faced problems of access to drinking water, despite abundant supplies from the Shatt Al-Arab waterway formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, because of a lack of investment and sanctions blighting infrastructure projects. “We are concerned that on current trends with rising temperatures, with such limited electricity, with the inadequacy of the water being pumped, that the population of Basra will be even more seriously deprived of water,” Mountain said.

Mountain said shortages of clean water in Basra were more acute than the rest of Iraq after years of neglect and the city being ravaged by conflict in three decades. 

“The south does present the most dire prospect at the moment in terms of (drinking water) supplies. Basra has been traditionally neglected. Lack of maintenance, lack of attention means it is the first to go. The pumps will collapse,” he said. Mountain said water levels were around 40-60 percent of that needed by the two million people in Basra and the surrounding areas and were lower than before the war.

“My colleagues say that water supply in the city is very unlikely to be restored to prewar levels before the end of the year,” he said. “We need all the help we can get. If emergency measures are not taken, there will be loss of life and disease,” Mountain said.

The UN official said the dire state of water and electricity could even spark civil unrest similar to that seen in the summer of last year when mobs took to the streets. 

“Water is life and if people don’t get water they are unlikely to sit quietly at home. The first demonstrations have already taken place with people protesting and it is not unreasonable to think that could happen again,” he added.

Meanwhile, a grieving Iraqi mother said she has put a curse on a US military officer charged with killing her son who worked as a driver for one of the top aides of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. “The American soldier who killed my son tore out a piece of my heart,” says the sixty-something Hadhun Mahbas Sirhan as tears roll down her cheeks. “I put a curse on him from here until eternity.”

On Wednesday, Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, 29, appeared before an investigating officer in a military courthouse at a US base in Germany charged with killing Karim Abed Ali at close range in an incident in late May in Kufa, south of Baghdad. The dead man’s seven orphaned children huddled around their grandmother on a straw mat in this brick house on a dirt road near a landfill in one of the Iraqi capital’s most miserable neighborhoods.

Copyright: Arab News 

  

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