- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, April 18 (UPI) — The World Food Program's first convoy into post-Saddam Hussein Iraq from Jordan halted Friday night at Ar Ramadi, some 40 miles west of darkened Baghdad, in preparation for a daylight delivery.

The 50 trucks carrying more than 1,400 metric tons of wheat flour will be the U.N. agency's first humanitarian aid caravan to the stricken capital since the U.S.-led military invasion began nearly one month ago, Maarten Roest, a WFP spokesman in Amman, told United Press International. "They had to make preparations for an arrival in the morning."

Baghdad has been without electricity since earlier this month.

The 70-member national staff in the capital was pronounced safe Wednesday and were reporting for work, WFP said. International staff members were evacuated March 17, before the attacks began.

Another relief corridor was being opened this week from Iran, which had closed its border with Iraq at the outbreak of hostilities, fearing a flood of refugees, which never happened.

Security constraints have limited WFP convoys to a single humanitarian route from Turkey into the northern parts of Iraq, the agency said. The corridors out of Jordan and Iran will also provide access to central and southern Iraq.

Eventually WFP also plans to have open humanitarian corridors from Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon where about 9,300 trucks will traverse over the next three months. They will replenish the Public Distribution System, which delivered food aid under the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program. Some 60 percent of about 27 million Iraqis depended on the rations as there sole food basket.

Also Friday, the World Health Organization said it has been receiving increasingly detailed assessments about the health system in several locations in Iraq, information it was using to kick start health services in communities around Iraq, the U.N. Agency said in a statement released in Amman in lieu of a daily briefing. Good Friday is a U.N. holiday.

The outlook apparently was not as bleak as feared.

A new report from Mosul found that 50 to 70 percent of health services were functional, and that looting was not as severe as in other centers.

As with other centers, funds were needed to continue running health services and to improve them.

In Baghdad, new reports were providing additional details as to the status of the staff, the patients and supplies in health facilities.

The Yarmouk hospital, with 770 beds, had been partially looted, and only about 10 percent of the staff was still working, WHO said. The hospital has been operating with little electricity, but this was expected to change over the weekend, as a new generator was being installed. The hospital, like many others, urgently needed filled oxygen cylinders.

The Ibn Al Nafis Vascular and Cardiac hospital, with 170 beds, was one of the few that was still functional. Surgeons from other hospitals damaged or looted were lending a hand at the hospital, the agency said. While it seemed to be secure, hygiene was reported as very poor. The facility urgently needs basic supplies, including antiseptics and bandaging, as well as surgical tools, intravenous devices and fluids.

The Ibn al-Hithem ophthalmology Teaching Hospital, with 400 beds, was reported to be in good shape and had not been looted.

However, the Al Rashid hospital was reported to have been burned and looted, WHO said, expressing concern about the approximately 700 patients who fled the hospital and have not returned. The patients who fled with injuries, infections and other trauma, were considered extremely vulnerable, and in need of medical assistance.

The U.N. agency said it underscored the need and obligation for the occupying forces to ensure civil order and security, including the security for hospitals and other medical facilities.

The most recent reports about the medical supply warehouses in Baghdad were also more encouraging, WHO said.

Original reports indicated that all of the warehouses had been looted and destroyed, but closer inspection showed that at least five of the warehouses, including some with medicines and medical supplies and equipment, were still intact. The agency was to conduct visits to each warehouse to take an inventory of the remaining stocks.

Unconfirmed reports earlier in the week that a major communicable disease control laboratory in Baghdad had been looted and cultures with poliovirus and incubators stolen were being challenged. The reports were not carried by UPI.

WHO now believes this unlikely to pose an immediate public health risk in Iraq since the nation has been polio-free for over two years and it was extremely unlikely that any of the cultures in the incubators actually contained wild poliovirus in the first instance. Additionally, since the site was a national-level laboratory, it would not be likely to have wild poliovirus control specimens.

The potential risk from historical specimens that would have been stored in freezers and that might have contained wild poliovirus was also low, the agency said. Even if such specimens did exist, they would rapidly deteriorate once the electricity supply to a freezer was interrupted.

(With reporting by UPI United Nations Correspondent William M. Reilly)

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