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Aid concern over civilian toll

As aid filters into Iraq, many hospitals are overstretched with injured civilians.
As aid filters into Iraq, many hospitals are overstretched with injured civilians.

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CNN's Richard Blystone followed a team from the International Rescue Committee in southern Iraq, where the biggest concern is water.
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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The World Health Organization said it is concerned about the worsening health situation in Iraq, specifically citing large numbers of civilian casualties, difficulty reaching the sick and injured, and the lack of clean drinking water.

In a briefing on Iraq on Friday, the Geneva-based group said it has heard reports of growing numbers of civilian casualties in and around Baghdad, Basra, and many other towns in southern and central Iraq.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 280 people were being treated at one hospital in the town of Hillah. The hospital is overwhelmed with patients and is struggling to cope.

In southern Iraq, Jumhuriyah Hospital in the center of Basra was partially damaged, injuring an unknown number of people.

"WHO is deeply concerned that injuries suffered as a direct result of this conflict are the number-one public health problem in Iraq today," the group said.

"WHO again reminds all parties to the conflict of their obligations under humanitarian law to respect the neutrality of civilians and especially that of hospitals, health workers and the entire medical infrastructure."

WHO said there is also an "increasingly urgent" need for access for humanitarian agencies. While they are able to gain access to some parts of southern Iraq, large areas are still off-limits for humanitarian work, WHO said.

"Towns and cities are increasingly being cut off," it said. "Shortages of medicines and medical supplies are threatened. Hospitals may no longer be able to cope. Public health will become an overwhelming concern. Speeding up the delivery of medical supplies is therefore essential in order to build up a pipeline of emergency stocks."

The group called on all warring parties to allow civilians the right to have access to health care and other humanitarian aid.

The shortage of clean and safe drinking water is also a major problem, WHO said.

The cut power supply to parts of Baghdad in recent days has disrupted the water pumping system there, and in the south, as many as 1.5 million people lack access to a safe water supply, WHO said, citing Red Cross figures.

"As temperatures rise across Iraq, a shortage of clean water will almost inevitably cause outbreaks of diarrheal disease and other health problems," WHO said.

The ICRC is helping to repair the water- and power-supply systems in seven hospitals and provided 10,000 liters of drinking water to two other hospitals. Red Cross technicians and local engineers from Basra helped restore two water treatment plants in the south.

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