Humanitarian situation deteriorates in Basra

The humanitarian situation and aid operations continued to deteriorate in Basra as heavy fighting between government forces and militiamen of the Mahdi Army led by radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr entered its third day, Salih Hmoud, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society’s office in Basra, told IRIN.

"The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the minute - not the hour or the day - due to clashes taking place in the streets; as a result, the humanitarian effort has been severely hampered and paralysed," Hmoud said on 27 March.

"Shootings, explosions and roadside bombs are preventing our teams from getting out and reaching people in need of our humanitarian aid, and we can no longer reach government hospitals to supply them," Hmoud said.

He said the need for drinking water and food was still the "most critical”: Cases of diarrhoea had started to appear, but there were no reliable figures.

"Some of these people with diarrhoea have somehow managed to defy the curfew and reach nearby hospitals on foot but the majority is still in their houses. This is very dangerous because they can die if they are not treated," Hmoud said.

The streets of Basra have been largely deserted since dawn on 25 March when a curfew was imposed.

Hospitals

After the clashes broke out between government forces and the Mahdi Army, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided Sadr Teaching Hospital with medical and surgical supplies to treat over 100 casualties. This hospital has treated most of those injured in the fighting - about 200 so far, while at least 20 have been killed, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. However, not all hospitals in Basra are fully equipped, according to Hmoud.

"The hospitals call us from time to time asking for medicines and other medical needs such as bandages, sutures and other things, but we cannot put our teams in harm’s way as neither side [government forces or the Mahdi militia] respect the ambulances or other vehicles with our emblem," he said.

sm/ar/cb