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Press release

With chlorine supplies dwindling, children face onslaught of water-borne diseases

400 tonnes of Chlorine Gas Urgently Needed, Especially in South

BASRA / GENEVA, 29 April 2003 – UNICEF warned today that rapidly dwindling supplies of chlorine gas in southern Iraq will leave drinking water untreated within weeks, with potentially calamitous effects on the lives of Iraqis.

UNICEF said only a small proportion of raw sewage is treated in Iraq. Most sewage is dumped untreated into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and then drawn again into pumping and treatment stations that provide the majority of Iraqi households with water. With the stations running low on chlorine, completely untreated water containing high concentrations of toxins and organic contamination could soon be pumped directly into household pipes.

“We know that Nasriyah, Basra, Zubair, and Safwan are all affected,” said Carel de Rooy, the head of UNICEF’s Iraq office. “Assessments indicate that water plants there will run out of chlorine by the middle of May.”

The agency said that with temperatures in Iraq rapidly increasing, and thousands of children already weak from malnutrition, dirty water will be the final blow.

“The dirty water equation is a simple one,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Young children have developing immune systems and low body weight. Add a bout of diarrhoea or cholera picked up from dirty water, and we can lose them very quickly.”

Bellamy noted that in one three-hour period in Baghdad this past week, a hospital reported 300 cases of children admitted with diarrhoea. “When the supplies of chlorine run out in some areas as early as this week, drawing water from a tap will be like taking it from a swamp,” she said.

The southern part of Iraq and parts of Baghdad have recently been severely affected by shortages of water, which explains increased number of diarrhoea cases among young children. If, on top of this, the quality of the available water deteriorates, the groundwork will be laid for epidemics such as cholera and typhoid.

Speaking from Basra, where a UNICEF team had been assessing the water situation, de Rooy noted that in towns in the south where the lack of chlorine has begun to show in the past week, there is a parallel rise in diarrhoea.

“It’s not too much to say that we are alarmed. The water situation is acute. People have to understand that children who contract diarrhoea, never mind cholera, cannot retain their food. They wither away. And we are on the cusp of
seeing contaminated water flow directly from the putrid main rivers into household pipes.”

Tankering Operation Has Saved Lives

In communities where water service has been lost completely as a result of the war, UNICEF has trucked in millions of gallons of clean water and set up community water stations at hospitals and health centres. An average of 20 water tankers organized by UNICEF cross into Iraq from Kuwait every day. Positive results have been seen: In the small southern town of Umm Qasr, for example, health centres are already witnessing a decline in diarrhoea cases.

UNICEF has also trucked in tonnes of gas chlorine supplies and delivered stocks of oral rehydration salts, which are used to treat children with diarrhoea, and high protein biscuits used to rehabilitate malnourished children recovering from diarrhoea bouts.

“It’s unfortunately not yet enough,” de Rooy said. He noted that water and sanitation systems are not even back to pre-war levels – which already were quite poor.

“What’s needed now is an emergency shipment of about 400 tonnes of chlorine gas,” de Rooy said. “Without it, we’ll see many more child deaths by the end of this month.”


UNICEF has more than 200 staff presently working throughout Iraq to assess needs and provide emergency relief, including food for malnourished children, water purification items, medicines, and basic supplies for hospitals. UNICEF is moving supplies into Iraq on a daily basis via convoys from Kuwait, Iran, and Turkey.

UNICEF has issued an appeal for $166 million to support its relief efforts for Iraqi children. About one-third of that amount has been received to date. UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions and relies on the generosity of private individuals, foundations, businesses, and governments to fulfil its mission.


UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, foundations, businesses, and governments. Contributions to UNICEF's ongoing support for Iraq children can be made at http://www.supportunicef.org/

For further information please contact us:.

Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Iraq (Kuwait): 962 79 692 6191
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: (4122) 909-5517
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326-7261
Simon Ingram, UNICEF Newsdesk, Amman 962 79 504 2058

For interviews in the region, write or call directly to the UNICEF NewsDesk in Amman:

(962-79) 50 422 058




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