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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 14:55 GMT
Aid agencies under pressure
The deliberate targeting of the Red Cross in a bomb attack in Baghdad has prompted many aid agencies operating in Iraq to re-evaluate their presence.

BBC News Online questioned five agencies providing humanitarian assistance in the country on how the deteriorating security situation was affecting their work.

Wrecked UN vehicle
All UN agencies have scaled down their presence in Iraq
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors without Borders, has been working to provide medical assistance to hospitals.

The war disrupted the distribution of basic medical supplies, while many hospitals lost key equipment in the looting which broke out in the aftermath.

Following Monday's bomb attacks, MSF is reducing its current expatriate team of seven who work in Baghdad.

The foreign members are heading to Jordan, from where they will monitor the situation and assess whether it is safe to return.

The team has particularly focused on the provision of primary health care, pre-natal care, and addressing malnutrition. It says that Iraqi staff who have been trained by the expatriates will continue with this work.

Oxfam, the British-based aid agency, has primarily been involved with water and sanitation projects.

Access to clean water around the country has been severely affected by problems with the electricity supply, which has also had an impact on sewage treatment.

After the attack on the United Nations Baghdad headquarters in August, Oxfam pulled all its foreign staff out of the country and now relies on a core team of 50 nationals.

"The security situation has severely limited what our staff can do," says spokesman Brendan Cox.

"For a start we've lost the expertise of the expatriates, but we also find that among those staff remaining, movements are restricted. We're having real trouble reaching the rural areas."

Save The Children has primarily been involved with assisting Iraqi health and education services.

One hundred staff continue to work in the country, a combination of expatriates and Iraqi nationals. Following the attack on the UN, the agency suspended all operations in Baghdad.

"It became clear then that our staff in Baghdad were not able to operate both effectively and safely, and we have a duty to ensure their safety," says spokesman Brendan Paddy.

"But scaling down in this way has inevitably had an impact on what we are able to achieve."

Aftermath of Baghdad blast
Monday's targeting of the Red Cross has prompted a fresh security rethink
One of the major drawbacks of withdrawing from Baghdad, according to Mr Paddy, was the loss of contact with the ministries responsible for health and education.

"If you can't liaise with these bodies then any kind of co-ordination becomes very difficult."

Care International, which is helping to repair waste and sanitation facilities as well as assisting with health education, is one of the few agencies to have increased its presence over the past few months.

And while others have pulled out of Baghdad due to their concerns over the security situation, Care International has pulled its staff back from the provinces and into the capital.

"We can no longer really get to the regions, but we are still able to operate fairly effectively in Baghdad," said a spokeswoman for the organisation.

World Food Programme, the United Nations agency, provides 60% of the Iraqi population - or 16 million people - with food parcels of wheat, flour, sugar, rice, milk powder, tea, detergent, pulses and cooking oil. This figure has remained relatively constant from the pre-war to the post-war period.

Like other UN agencies, the WFP significantly scaled down its foreign staff after the August attacks in Baghdad.

"People didn't want to come to work any more after it happened, which was totally understandable," says spokeswoman Caroline Hurford.

Foreign staff co-ordinate the distribution from neighbouring Jordan, while Iraqi nationals deliver it across the country.

"The security situation has affected convoys - we can't pretend it hasn't, but the broader picture is still a positive one. The food is, on the whole, getting through."

The WFP's current mandate in Iraq expires at the end of October, at which point decisions will be taken on how best to continue with the programme.

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