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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
Short warns of Baghdad crisis
A girl watches at a US checkpoint in Amara
UN agencies will move into Iraqi towns when they are declared safe

Baghdad is facing "an increasingly serious" humanitarian crisis, International Development Secretary Clare Short has said.

In a statement to MPs, Ms Short said there was "a real fear of a breakdown of law and order" in Iraq's capital.

She said looting in the city had been accompanied by violence, with hospitals being targeted and stripped of supplies.

And she told MPs that there were reports of staff in some of the city's hospitals being raped.

Doctors 'overwhelmed'

Paying tribute to a Red Cross worker killed in crossfire in Baghdad, Ms Short said it was vital to get the organisation working again in the city.

"Over the last few days, we have received reports of an increasingly serious humanitarian situation in Baghdad," said Ms Short.

"Hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties, electricity is mostly out of order, some parts of the city no longer have piped water."

Clare Short

The BBC's Clive Myrie, in Basra, said water was one of the biggest humanitarian problems in the city, which has a population of 1.5m people.

British troops have begun escorting water tankers in through Kuwait, but a bigger humanitarian effort is vital, he said.

Ms Short, who had threatened to quit her post over the Iraq war before a change of heart, said water shortages had caused problems in other towns and cities near Baghdad.

But water supplies were gradually being restored in Basra and Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

And there had not been as many refugees as expected, although there was a risk the numbers could swell if fighting escalated or food went short, she said.

"In most parts of the country, food is not currently a major problem," Ms Short continued.

For many families, food supplies from the World Food Programme would not run out until the end of April.

Aid duty

Turning to the post-war administration of Iraq, Ms Short said a UN resolution was required by international law to set up a "legitimate" interim authority.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund would require such backing in order to support the reconstruction effort, she said.

The Irish Guards of the British Army stop people from looting aid in Basra
Aid agencies say getting aid into Basra is almost impossible

She said under international law, coalition forces would be seen as "occupying powers" and had a duty to provide humanitarian aid.

There are differing views within the international community about exactly what role the UN should play in post-war Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush have said the UN has a "vital role" but have not set out the details of how they see that role.

And Tory spokeswoman Caroline Spelman said there were still questions about the UN's role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

But Ms Short said President Bush had been "strong and clear" in his backing for a UN role.

The international development secretary was reporting to the Commons on the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

"As soon as it is safe to do so, UN agencies will return and take over responsibility for co-ordinating humanitarian support in accordance with humanitarian law and principles," she said.

Fighting

She welcomed a UN resolution aimed at restarting the UN food-for-oil programme, upon which 16 million Iraqis rely upon.

Ms Short told MPs that $1.2bn had been raised globally for the humanitarian effort in Iraq, with the UN seeking a total of $2.2bn.

The UK contribution amounts to 115m from Ms Short's department to the UN, Red Cross and aid agencies.

A further 30m was provided by the Treasury for the armed forces to deliver aid.

The minister said her department had a further 95m available, while Chancellor Gordon Brown had announced another 60m in his Budget on Wednesday.

Ms Short pledged that cash would not be diverted to Iraq from other emergency projects such as efforts to tackle famine in southern Africa.




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