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[casi] Humanitarian crisis in Iraq, free campaign postcards available.



Dear friends,

As the powerful piece from yesterday's Guardian reproduced below makes
clear, the US and British governments are still failing to address the
humanitarian crisis in Iraq - a crisis greatly exacerbated by the recent
invasion. Iraqi children are dying - and being permanently stunted,
physically and mentally - as a result. Yesterday Reuters reported that,
according to the UN 'the number of confirmed cases of cholera in the Iraqi
city of Basra is already higher than in the whole of last year'
(http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=571&ncid=571&e=2&u=/nm/2003
0529/hl_nm/cholera_iraq_dc_1).

** Earlier this month Voices UK launched a new postcard campaign, focussing
on the current humanitarian situation in Iraq (text below). Copies of this
postcard (which are free, though donations are always welcome) can be
obtained by contacting the voices office: voices@viwuk.freeserve.co.uk or
tel. 0207 837 0561. The postcard can be viewed on-line at
http://www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk/takeaction.html**

Over the past five and half years Voices UK has organised letter-writing and
postcard campaigns, mass acts of nonviolent civil disobdience and sent
sanctions-breaking delegation to Iraq in in order to expose - and pressure
the British Government to terminate - the economic sanctions against Iraq,
which Save the Children Fund UK described as 'a silent war against Iraq's
children.'  We now urge all those who have stood in solidarity with ordinary
Iraqis over the past 13 years and all those who took part in the campaign to
stop the war, to do all that they can to pressure the US and British
governments to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law
and to use all the resources at their disposal to end the current
humanitarian crisis. If the US Government can find tens of billions of
dollars to fund its illegal invasion and occupation, it can find the money
and the resources to restore clean drinking water and medical services to
the people of Iraq.

Best wishes,

Gabriel
voices in the wilderness uk
www.voicesuk.org

********************************************
A. Behind the victory, a power struggle that drains life from a weary people
The untold stories of how no electricity means no water, which means disease
by Rory McCarthy in Khalis
Guardian, May 29, 2003

When Tony Blair visits Iraq today, he will be told about the achievements of
the British armed forces, the swift and widely welcomed defeat of Saddam
Hussein's tyrannical regime and how reconstruction, though difficult, is
beginning apace.

It will only be half the story. He will not, for example, hear about Dr
Hussain Ridha and the plight of Khalis, a small, provincial capital about 50
miles north of Baghdad. But if Khalis is anything like the hundreds of other
small towns and villages across the country, then postwar Iraq is al ready
in a far deeper crisis than its military occupiers will ever admit.

Khalis is an unremarkable town of around 40,000 people, set in fertile
plains to the east of the Tigris river. Two days ago a newborn baby died in
Dr Ridha's hands because the hospital where he works has run out of oxygen.

Doctors are now seeing 200 new patients daily, all suffering from severe
diarrhoea. It is twice the average for this time of year. In addition, each
day they see at least seven new typhoid patients. Yesterday Dr Ridha was on
his last bottle of Flagyl, or metronidazole, one of the main antibiotics he
uses for bacterial stomach illnesses.

One of his patients is Ayham Mortadha, a boy just three months old who is
suffering from diarrhoea and marasmus, a sign of severe malnutrition that
will leave him permanently affected.

Yesterday Ayham lay on a dirty hospital bed next to his mother, Nuha, 18.
His face was grey, his small eyes were sunk back in his skull and he was too
weak even to cry.

"This is simply the result of poor nutrition, bad hygiene and dirty water,"
Dr Ridha said. "There is nothing I can do for him other than give him
fluids. We have to accept he will grow up stunted and there will be some
damage to his brain."

His young mother explained that the family has had to rely on river water
for drinking and cooking since the war. "There was no other water available.
It was dirty but I had no choice," she said.

The taps in their home ran dry and mineral water in the market is too
expensive at around 1,500 dinars (1) a bottle.

Outside the ward, the hospital's corridors are overcrowded with the sick and
desperate. There are 55 beds and many times more patients. Dr Ridha's
paediatrics ward has 26 beds and yesterday had 44 young patients, mostly
severely dehydrated and undernourished infants.

Remaining stocks of medicine will run out within a week and diesel supplies
to run the two overworked generators that keep the hospital operating are
already perilously low. Unlike thousands of government employees in Basra
and Baghdad, the doctors of Khalis have not been paid for the past three
months.

"We prepared ourselves before the war with three months of supplies for us
to work only under normal circumstances, not with the number of patients we
have now. The supplies run out at the beginning of June," said Mohammad
Ahmed, the hospital director.

There is no gas to cook in the kitchen and staff must burn scraps of wood
instead. Where they used to serve patients four meals with meat each week,
now they serve barely two.

It should be no surprise that more and more people are falling sick every
day. With only one hour of power a day there is not enough electricity to
keep the town's water treatment plant pumping. One of the main sewage plants
in the town was inexplicably bombed during the war and then picked to the
bone by looters.

It has been repaired but has no generator to allow it to run. The network of
cast-iron pipes that supplies people's homes is cracked and leaking. When
the power cuts out, the negative pressure sucks in all the sewage pooled
around the pipes and delivers it directly into the people's homes.

Chaos

The aid agency Care, one of the few organisations which worked in Iraq for
several years before the war, is trying to stop Khalis descending into
chaos.

Care has delivered medicine and equipment to the hospital and rebuilt the
bombed sewage plant. It has repaired the water treatment plant, which
finally operates properly for the first time in years.

But the plant still shuts down several times each day because the back-up
generators, which take over when the power is out, are already on the verge
of breakdown. None of the plant's 30 staff has been paid and so few bother
coming to work. The vital chlorine stocks that disinfect the water will last
only another three weeks.

At the heart of the problem, aid workers say, is that the highly centralised
system of the former regime has been replaced by a power vacuum, run ad hoc
by the US-led authority in Baghdad.

"There was a system before. It didn't work very well, but it worked," said
Majeed Waleed, Care's programme manager for Iraq. "We welcome the change.
But what the authorities are doing now is dismantling it and starting from
zero. This is the biggest risk. It has become so politicised that the basic
structure to run the country is not yet there. This is now the emergency."

When the US military swept into Iraq they expected after a brief battle to
find a government decapitated but otherwise largely intact. Instead the
structure has fallen apart, its collapse sped by the US-led
de-Ba'athification programme, which excludes up to 30,000 senior government
officials from any role in the state.

Many of the problems are the chronic result of 13 years of UN sanctions and
Saddam's corruption and mismanagement. Yet under the Geneva conventions,
Britain and America, as the occupying powers of Iraq, are obliged to provide
basic services such as health, clean water, power and security.

Too few troops on the ground means poor security. Poor security means
electricians have only been able to repair half of Iraq's damaged
electricity pylons, so power supplies across the country are intermittent at
best.

As the crisis in Khalis demonstrates, limited power means little clean water
and enormous and mounting pressure on the already fragile health system.

Senior aid officials have warned that as pre-war health and sanitation
supplies run out and the summer heat rises, the crisis will deepen before it
improves.

"Power is not a luxury. It is the key," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the UN
humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. "If we are not able to get back these
services before the summer sets in when you have no power there will be not
enough hands to handle the situation."

In Khalis, Dr Ridha is sanguine given the pathetic state of his hospital. He
remembers the years before the sanctions came in 1990, when malnutrition
cases were so rare that students flocked to study them and when diarrhoea
was as easily treated as in Britain today.

"There is so much we need: medicines, clean water, more space in the
hospital, salaries," he said. "It shouldn't be as bad as this." It is not
the message Mr Blair is expecting to hear.

*************************************
B. TEXT OF VOICES POSTCARD

The people of Iraq continue to suffer - and Iraq's children continue to face
'grave threats to their survival, health and general well-being' (UNICEF, 2
May) - as a result of 12  years of economic sanctions, the invasion and its
aftermath.

According to Medicins Sans Frontieres (2 May) the US/UK have 'failed to meet
[their] responsibility under international law to ensure that the health and
well-being of the Iraqi people is being provided for.'

'Insecurity and uncertainty persists across Iraq' and hospitals, water
plants and sewage systems - already under severe strain and under-resourced
before the war began - 'have been crippled by the conflict and looting.
Hospitals are overwhelmed, diarrhoea is endemic and the death toll is
mounting.' (Joint statement by Save the Children, Oxfam and CAFOD, May 2)

I demand that the US and British governments fulfil their obligations under
international humanitarian law and use all the resources at their disposal
to end the current humanitarian crisis.







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