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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 12:44 GMT
UK aid set to reach Iraq
British Royal Logistics Corps troops help load up aid supplies
Humanitarian aid being loaded onto the Sir Galahad
A British aid ship is due to arrive in Iraq within the next two days, loaded with 232 tonnes of emergency relief.

The Sir Galahad, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, from Marchwood port near Southampton, will dock at Umm Qasr - a vital port in the south of the country which was also the scene of heavy fighting.

The difficulties facing aid workers were highlighted on Wednesday when the Red Cross said it was unable to get medical supplies to the residents of Basra, where fighting hit the city's water supply.

Another charity, Cafod, said it could be weeks before most aid agencies are able to work in Iraq, because of extended fighting between coalition troops and Iraqi soldiers disguised as civilians.

According to the United Nations, 60% of Iraq's 27 million people were dependent on food aid even before war broke out, prompting fears the largest humanitarian response in history could be needed.

British supplies due
Bottled water - 110 tonnes
Sugar - 32 tonnes
Lentils - 20 tonnes
Rice - 18 tonnes
Veg oil - 11 tonnes
Milk powder - 5 tonnes

Among the Sir Galahad's supplies are water, sugar, lentils, chick peas, rice, tea and milk powder.

Also on board are medical supplies, 2,400 blankets and 8,200 packs of "dislocated civilian" rations.

It was hoped the Sir Galahad would be in Iraq some time on Wednesday afternoon, but that will depend on a major mine-clearing operation to make its passage safe.

Once the food has been unloaded it will be moved forward to "safe" areas of Iraq.

Medical centres

The Sir Galahad would inevitably be the first of many vessels to bring humanitarian relief from the UK into Iraq.

We are not going in while there are even two guns in the city because it would not be deemed safe enough for any ordinary aid agency
Alistair Dutton - Cafod
On Tuesday International Development Secretary Clare Short said the UK would give another 30m to the humanitarian effort in Iraq.

The money was confirmed as Muslim and Christian aid agencies linked up with the charity Islamic Relief to launch "Iraq in Crisis", an appeal to raise more than 6m to give vital help to Iraqi people.

But Cafod's Alistair Dutton, who is waiting in Kuwait City, said it could be weeks before Iraq is safe for civilian workers.

He said that local staff in the country had already handed out half of the 4,000 emergency first aid kits stockpiled at 14 Cafod-supplied medical centres in the first week of war.

"If you look at the way they are fighting in Basra, people taking off their uniforms, it is going to be house to house," Mr Dutton explained.

"They are just going to be picking them off one by one and we are not going in while there are even two guns in the city because it would not be deemed safe enough for any ordinary aid agency."

River water

After fierce fighting outside Basra and reports of a civilian uprising in the city, the Red Cross said it had partly restored the city's water supplies.

A 16-strong team from the agency had been sent in amid fears that disease could spread if the city's 1.5m residents were forced to drink polluted river water.

A spokesman said: "We are still looking into restoring it totally but we are happy with the results."

British forces spokesman Group Captain Al Lockwood said: "We need to liberate the city for the people of Basra, with the minimum of civilian casualties and damage to the infrastructure.

"We need to get the vital services - the electricity and the water - with the aid of the Red Cross, back on to give these people a quality of life."

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