February 17, 2005
With a few winter clothes and blankets, Abu Mussab and his family remain encamped outside Fallujah waiting for a decision from the government in relation to their home, which was destroyed during fierce battles between US troops and insurgents in the city some 60 km from the capital, Baghdad. Mussab is just one of hundreds of families displaced after the fighting, which started in November and lasted nearly three months. His home and those of thousands of others were flattened and the city still does not have basic facilities, according to aid agencies.
Ahmed Rawi, a spokesman for the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN that the situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) from Fallujah was critical, requiring a huge quantity of supplies. He explained that there were also problems in distributing the monthly food ration. Rawi added that they had stopped their work inside Iraq since 14 January, after one of their staff members was killed by insurgents. "We have stopped our work for security reasons and we are evaluating and studying how to work inside Iraq in the midst of poor security. Iraqis should understand that we are neutral people," he said.
"When I was in Fallujah I was feeding my family from my work as a gardener. Today I cannot afford anything and have to wait for help from any organisation. My son is sick and I don't even have money to buy medicines. I really don't know what to do," Mustafa al-Alani, a father-of-five camped in Saklawiya, some 7 km from the city, told IRIN. Medical staff from the city complain that only the main hospital in Fallujah and two small medical centres were working properly, but that access was difficult due to its location near the entrance to the city. They said the most common cases reported were of child malnutrition and water-borne diseases.
Dr Ammar al-Issauye, who works at one of the medical centres inside Fallujah, told IRIN that the government should make urgent investments in the health sector and that the public works ministry should start to clean up the city as the rubbish littering the streets posed a health hazard. The Ministry of Health (MoH) reported that some services in the IDP areas were overloaded. For instance, consultations in the Saklawiya clinic average between 600 and 800 patients per day, with high incidences of respiratory infections, diarrhoea and scabies reported, due to overcrowded living conditions and poor sanitation.
According to Col Peter Smith of the US Marines 1st Division, nearly 8,000 people are now living in the city, but he added that some 100,000 had passed through the checkpoints into the city, which used to have a total population of 280,000. Before and during the battles, two-thirds of the city's population was said to have fled, according to aid agencies. He added that families there were suffering from a lack of electricity, water and many houses needed repairing, but that the situation would soon start to improve. "The Iraqi government is working hard with US troops to soon give safety and adequate conditions for the residents to be back in their homes," Smith told IRIN.
Some children can be seen running after the armed Marines who are offering footballs and sweets to them, showing some signs of normality. But families can be seen in the doors of their homes watching the silence of the city,where the only sound heard now is of US tanks rolling past making daily security checks. Very few shops are open and some fruit and vegetables sellers can be seen at street corners. Electricity and water is still not running adequately and families are reliant on support from some NGOs who are filling water tanks distributed throughout the city.
Another problem worrying NGOs is the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs), as reports suggest that homes and public buildings have not been systematically cleared and demarcated and that public information campaigns have not been effectively disseminated to returnees. "We cannot afford to have any more casualties, particularly children, who are at most risk. The city should be cleared of UXOs soon so that they can safely move around," an NGO worker told IRIN in Baghdad.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided an additional 200 tents, 3,000 blankets, 500 heaters and 500 plastic sheets to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) for distribution to returnees inside Fallujah. Meanwhile, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in a statement that its department dealing with water and sanitation had provided some seven million litres of water to more than 70,000 IDPs.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was trucking 400,000 litres of drinking water on a daily basis for about 66,500 people to IDP locations in Habaniya, Amiriya, Karma and Saklawiya, just outside the city. UNICEF notes that an estimated 100,000 children from Fallujah and the surrounding host communities are at risk of losing their entire academic year as a result of schools being occupied, damaged or overcrowded. None of the 95 schools inside Fallujah are currently open and only 125 out of 362 schools in the surrounding areas are reported to be functioning.
The last convoy sent by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) was three weeks ago to Habaniya, Amiriya and Saklawiya carrying blankets, potable water and food supplies. "We expect the new government to take responsibility in helping the IDPs in Fallujah and will soon offer reasonable living conditions inside the city and give us a minimum of security to help them," the ICRC's Rawi added.
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