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IRAQ: Delivery of aid still a problem four years after US invasion

BAGHDAD, 21 March 2007 (IRIN) - After four years of US-led military occupation, the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in Iraq continues to be hampered by a number of factors. Sectarian violence and military operations have caused millions of citizens to flee their homes, making it even harder for aid workers to deliver much-needed provisions and services.

“NGOs play a vital role in providing support to affected people. But they often face obstacles to get to the most vulnerable,” said Cedric Turlan, Information Officer for the NGOs Coordinating Committee in Iraq (NCCI).

Turlan said violence and the targeting of aid workers greatly restricted humanitarian workers’ operations. At least 83 aid workers have been killed over the past four years in Iraq - the highest number of aid workers killed in any single country worldwide, more than 20 years of war in Afghanistan, according to NCCI.

“Human Rights are not respected in Iraq today, starting from the first right, the right to live,” Turlan said. “It’s clear that the country is collapsing and is in a state of humanitarian crisis that must be recognised by the international community and responded to accordingly.”

NCCI is a network of about 80 international NGOs and 200 local NGOs. They all keep a low profile to avoid being targeted and most expatriates are now not based in Baghdad, but abroad or in safer areas of the country.

“I would say that the humanitarian space has been blurred for the past four years by lots of organisations which have put first their political, military, religious or economic agendas,” Turlan said.

Aid workers say that keeping track of the huge numbers of people fleeing their homes and moving around or out of the country is a mammoth task in itself. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says more than 1,500 Iraqis flee their homes every day.

UNHCR says about two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries and about 1.9 million are displaced within Iraq. Many children no longer attend school and are deprived of health facilities. They also face difficulties getting food from government food ration distribution centres because of violence.

NCCI says 47 percent of the population is highly dependent on these government rations, 40 percent of people do not regularly receive their food ration and 20 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. In addition, the organisation says only 30 percent of people have access to drinkable water and the population has only two hours of electricity per day.

The Iraq government has said that violence and corruption in the country has hampered reconstruction but denied allegations of human rights abuses.

“The government is struggling to achieve development but reconstruction projects have been delayed because of attacks and the targeting of workers. Whenever infrastructure is repaired, insurgents return to destroy everything,” said Salah Obaidi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Reconstruction.

“In addition to violence, corruption is endemic in all sectors and many funds allocated for the rebuilding of the country have unfortunately gone into the wrong hands,” Obaidi added.

as/ar/ed

Theme (s): Aid Policy, Children, Conflict, Food Security, Human Rights, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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