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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK
Umm Qasr aid effort 'a shambles'
Patrick Nichollson
Patrick Nicholson of Cafod has been to assess the situation
Aid agencies have been trying to send their workers into Iraq to assess what relief supplies are needed in the war torn country. Patrick Nicholson of the UK charity Cafod has just returned from Umm Qasr, where he found the humanitarian effort in the British occupied area to be a "shambles".

I have just returned from working in Angola and never expected to see exactly the same sort of poverty in Iraq - a country floating on oil.

From the TV pictures of Umm Qasr, I had been led to believe it was a town under control, where the needs of the people were being met.

The town is not under control. It's like the Wild West. And even the most major humanitarian concern, water, is not being adequately administered.

Dirty water

Everywhere I went, the local people asked me for water.

I went into the two rooms occupied by a family of 14, they were drinking from an oil drum half full of stagnant, dirty water. It was water I certainly would not have drunk.

The little girl was very malnourished, skeletal, and in my experience as an aid worker I would say she had less than a week to live.

The coalition has installed a water pipeline in Umm Qasr and sends out water tankers, but the Iraqi lorry drivers go off and sell the water. Most people have no money to buy it.

The hospital has been without water for three days. Inside people were very angry with me because I was a westerner. They felt angry, frustrated and let down by the coalition.

Many had come to Umm Qasr from Basra because they had been told in American radio broadcasts that they would be looked after. They now say the coalition lied to them.

Adu Sulsam had brought his four-year-old daughter, Fatima, to the hospital and pleaded with me to help.

He said that I was her only hope. I told him I was not a doctor. There is only one doctor at the hospital.

Shrapnel wound

The little girl was very malnourished, skeletal, and in my experience as an aid worker I would say she had less than a week to live.

Another man had brought his 12-year-old son, Farahan, to Umm Qasr because the boy had been hit in the head with shrapnel in Basra, but had not got better after being operated on.

A chaotic aid distribution in southern Iraq
Aid distributions in Iraq have so far proven chaotic
This father also thought his child would receive better treatment in Umm Qasr. Both men were completely disappointed.

One young man angrily said to me: "You support us when the TV cameras and newspapers are here, to show the world you like us.

"When they have gone you change. You have changed Saddam for another kind of imperialism."

Umm Qasr was taken 10 days ago and it was deemed safe for aid agencies to enter on Monday, and yet it is still a shambles.

If the coalition has trouble looking after such a small town, then what are they going to do about the city of Basra or, my God, Baghdad?

If the coalition is trying to win the battle of hearts and minds in Iraq, then it is not winning by the evidence of the people of Umm Qasr.



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