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Last Updated: Friday, 19 November, 2004, 20:03 GMT
Aid stalemate at the gates of Falluja
By Neil Arun
BBC News

Amid warnings of a humanitarian crisis in Falluja, doctors and Red Cross officials say that plentiful medical supplies are reaching a hospital on the edge of the city - but there is no one to treat.

Refugee children from Falluja
Aid workers are worried young refugees are falling prey to illness

A stone's throw away from the smoking ruins of Falluja, Dr Saleh Hussain al-Issawy waits for patients in an empty hospital.

Thousands of people who survived or fled the US assault on the Iraqi city are in grave danger from hunger, disease and injuries, the Red Cross has warned.

Not one of them, though, has made it to Dr Issawy's hospital - Falluja's biggest, best-equipped medical facility.

Trained medical workers and truckloads of surgical supplies are at his disposal but have yet to be used.

"I have 20 staff here and no patients," Dr Issawy told BBC News by telephone.

Along the road bridge linking the city to the hospital, nothing moves except American armour.

When one-and-a-half tonnes of Red Cross aid arrived at the city's gates this week, US forces barred it from entering, while violence still raged in several districts.

Humanitarian corridor

"We are hearing reports there is no-one left alive in Falluja, they have all died," Dr Issawy said.

Jolan district
An Iraqi man faces US troops during a search operation in Falluja

But the fact that there are no patients at the hospital could equally confirm what some US military officials have claimed - that most of Falluja's civilians fled before the assault began, leaving only combatants behind, and that all but a diehard few of these fighters are now captured or dead.

With access to the city still blocked by the US military, it is impossible to say for sure what has happened.

The Red Cross has called for an independent assessment of conditions inside the shattered city.

It also wants the creation of a "humanitarian corridor" to transfer aid into the city - irrespective of whether those most in need of it are fighters or civilians.

"Even combatants are protected by international law," says the Red Cross Baghdad spokesman Ahmed Rawi.

Falluja refugees

The Red Cross says that many of those who fled Falluja arrived en masse in neighbouring towns like Habbaniyya and Saqlawiyya, settling down wherever they could.

Falluja refugees
Qarma - 3,500 families
Amiriyat Falluja - 3,500 families
Albou Issa - 3,500 families
Saqlawiyya - 3,000 families
Habbaniyya - 1,200 families
Amiriya, Baghdad - 1,200 families
Source: Red Cross

In Habbaniyya, a Saddam Hussein-era resort town built around an artificial lake, the families are packed into holiday chalets and large tents.

"The main problem with Habbaniyya is that it is not linked to the water network," Mr Rawi said.

So, on 13 November, the Red Cross provided a water purification unit, capable of producing 3,000 litres of fresh water a day. It also delivered 650 food parcels in the area.

On the same day, some 1,000 food parcels and 1,000 jerry cans containing 15,000 litres of fresh water were delivered to Qarma - a small town on the highway between Baghdad and Falluja.

Qarma is home to an estimated 3,500 families from Falluja, most of them crammed into schools and municipal buildings.

Disease spreading

The Red Cross estimates a further 3,000 to 4,000 families live in smaller villages in the area such as Albou Issa.

Falluja aid packs
6kg of rice
4kg of lentils
2kg of oil
1kg of sugar
400g of salt
200g of dried yeast
2g of tea
One pack can feed one person for about one month or a family of six for about five days. Source: Red Cross

A large shipment of food and water was being prepared for them, Mr Rawi said.

Blankets have been sent to Habbaniyya, where much of the housing lacks doors and windows, having been looted heavily after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

For Saqlawiyya, a town near Falluja with a large clinic, the Red Cross arranged a delivery of emergency medical and surgical supplies.

Mr Rawi said medicines were also much in need in Habbaniyya, where fever and influenza are spreading and diarrhoea is rife among the younger refugees.


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