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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 17:23 GMT
UK aid ship docks at Iraqi port
Sir Galahad docks
The delayed ship has finally arrived
The first British supply ship carrying aid to Iraq has arrived at the southern port of Umm Qasr.

The Sir Galahad, which has about 650 tonnes of food, medicine and fresh water on board, had been delayed by storms and the discovery of mines.

It was escorted by ships, helicopters, inflatable boats with machine guns and a mine sweeper in a move the captain hoped would demonstrate the shipping channel was safe and the port open for business.

Aid agencies have welcomed the ship's arrival but fear not enough vital food and water supplies will reach the Iraqi people in time to avert a humanitarian crisis.

They are also concerned about whether the supplies will reach those most in need in areas outside the control of coalition forces.

'Pinprick' on problem

They say Iraq faced a humanitarian crisis even before war started.

Christian Aid spokesman John Davison accused coalition troops of bungling aid distribution.

The United Nations' World Food Programme has warned it could need more than $1bn to help feed Iraqis for about six months.
A days' food: The humanitarian aid rations troops give out

Save the Children echoed this sentiment saying aid from the military was just a "drop in the ocean" given the UN food programme estimated 460,000 tonnes of food was needed to feed the Iraqi population each month.

Spokeswoman Carolyne Culver said: "We need to get the UN and agencies back in as soon as possible to make sure the aid gets to the most needy.

"25% of children in southern Iraq are malnourished."

The UN Security Council has agreed on a draft resolution to re-start the huge Iraq oil-for-food programme, which could be put to the vote on Friday.

The Sir Galahad, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship from Southampton, had been due to dock on Wednesday but this was delayed by bad weather and problems with mine clearance in the channel.

They were detonated by clearance teams - some working with dolphins - after being discovered outside areas of water that had already been "swept", the Royal Navy said.

Troops from Marchwood military port in Southampton are now organising the unloading of the aid.

The Sir Galahad's voyage is meant to send a signal the British government is serious not only about the military campaign in Iraq, but also about the humanitarian aid effort.

'Serious disease'

But Christian Aid dismissed the idea humanitarian fears could now be put aside.

Mr Davison said Sir Galahad would probably satisfy the humanitarian needs in Umm Qasr and the surrounding area.

"But this is a pinprick on what is a huge problem," he said.
A British soldier sits on water containers

Christian Aid is particularly concerned about how aid is being distributed by US and UK forces, who "don't know what they're doing".

Mr Davison said what aid had already been distributed was mainly given to the fit and strong.

"You cannot, as we have seen, just barrel in somewhere and start throwing stuff off the back of a truck, otherwise you get a riot," he said.

The most immediate problem was the lack of water in Basra, where proper supplies had been down since last Friday.

"If you take into account that serious disease and epidemics can start within two or three days of a major failure of a water supply, then you have got some idea of what might be going on there," Mr Davison warned.

Brigadier Shaun Cowlam, the man in charge of the aid distribution, said Iraqi militia were to blame for problems getting supplies to the most needy.

But he said: "We are very confident we can focus our aid to the greatest point of need."

Umm Qasr is being protected by Royal Marines from 42 Commando.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"A crucial weapon in the battle to gain the trust of the Iraqi people"

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