Millions of Iraqis at risk from contaminated water, says Red Cross
Country continues to face one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters
Improved security has failed to prevent Iraq becoming the scene of one of the world's most critical humanitarian disasters with water supplies and sewage systems putting millions at risk of disease, the Red Cross said today.
The statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross said the situation has not improved significantly since March this year when the organisation published its report, Iraq: No Let-up in The Humanitarian Crisis.
The report found that the humanitarian situation in Iraq following the US invasion was the worst in the world.
Today's findings state that water supplies in the war-torn country have continued to deteriorate with even the most basic infrastructure not functioning.
More than 40% of people are relying on poor quality and inadequate supplies and millions, especially children, are at serious risk of water-borne disease, the Red Cross said.
Cholera cases peaked in a number of provinces during the hottest months of August and September.
"Iraqis urgently need access to clean water. They try to get it from rivers and wells but these sources are contaminated throughout the country so many people become ill," said Patrick Yussef, head of the Red Cross sub-delegation in Baghdad.
Most of Iraq's water comes from its two main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which are heavily polluted by household waste and litter.
In poorer areas of Baghdad, streets are flooded with sewage, which seeps into walls and under the floors of houses until they collapse.
Even though 10 litres of bottled water costs only 50 US cents, many Iraqis cannot afford to buy it and have to drink water from the polluted rivers.
Hospitals are struggling to keep up with the numbers of sick. Equipment and medicines are in short supply and electricity shortages are common.
"There has been some improvement in recent months, both in terms of security and essential services," said Juan-Pedro Schaerer, head of the Red Cross delegation for Iraq. "But far too many Iraqis still have no choice but to drink dirty water and live in insalubrious conditions."
The most vulnerable are those living in the countryside and suburbs and not connected to a water network.
The Red Cross is trying to gain more access into the country and said this has improved over the years.
But Schaerer stressed that the situation of many civilians remains precarious. "Clearly, fewer civilians are dying now than at the height of the conflict," he said. "Nevertheless, men, women and children are being killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks every day.
"The ICRC reminds all parties to the conflict that they have an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect and respect civilians."