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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Aid crisis compounds Iraq misery

By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Many of the aid agencies working in Iraq have been forced to leave the country, as conditions here get more dangerous by the day.

Bomb-shattered UN HQ in Baghdad, 19 Aug 03
The bomb blast against the UN was a major blow to aid efforts

Experts warn that the withdrawal of aid workers could have a devastating effect on hospitals and on other basic services.

Eight-month-old Leyla Ghanim needs drugs that doctors here cannot afford.

She is so weak now that without them even a common cold could kill her.

The medicine she is taking has been donated by aid agencies. But supplies are short.

And Leyla is just one of countless children with complications from diarrhoea caused by dirty water.

Ten different aid groups had been helping the hospital I visited. But since the 19 August bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad they say they have only heard from about half of them.

Leyla Ghanim in Baghdad hospital
Leyla Ghanim needs life-saving drugs

The doctor told us no decent Iraqi would not fear for the future now.

"If they all pull out," he says, "it will be a catastrophe for the children".

And now the biggest humanitarian operation of all is being forced to scale down.

The UN and other aid agencies have been trying to pick up the pieces after the war and fill the huge gaps left by the coalition, but now they themselves have become targets.

The UN says it cannot afford to put its staff at risk. So, many UN workers have been packing their bags.

Development postponed

Some have been sent on leave, some are leaving now for good.

Sewage in Baghdad street
Sewage is a breeding ground for virulent diseases

The top UN official here says international contractors are already refusing to come in.

So what does it all mean for Iraqis?

According to UN humanitarian coordinator Ramiro Lopes da Silva, it means "a delay of the future".

"It's evident that this country needs reconstruction. This country needs its infrastructure put back in place. This country needs jobs, employment."

It is not happening. Sewage is still on the streets, months after Saddam Hussein was toppled.

Things here seem to be moving not forwards, but backwards.

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