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Looting 'hampers medical aid'

A British soldier tends to an injured Iraqi boy at a field hospital near Basra.
A British soldier tends to an injured Iraqi boy at a field hospital near Basra.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Looting and warfare in Baghdad has been deterring people from seeking medical aid and impeding the supply of humanitarian goods, international health agencies say.

Roland Huguenin-Benjamin of the International Committee of the Red Cross told CNN hospitals have been looted and potential patients will not be able to get to hospitals to receive treatment "unless some sort of security can be re-established in the city."

"Many hospitals, including lots of other governmental properties, of course, have come under looting," Huguenin-Benjamin said.

"And right now, there are major hospitals that are suffering from attacks, as unbelievable as it may seem, by people who are engaged in looting activities."

Jim Tulloch of the World Health Organization added: "One of the main problems the health services are facing is the shortage of staff.

"And partly that's because in a situation of total insecurity, people will have to stay home, try to protect their houses, try to protect their families and not be able to go and provide services for patients.

"Just getting to the health services will be more difficult under the current circumstances," said Tulloch, who called the conditions in hospitals in Baghdad and other cities "really bad" and deteriorating.

In Baghdad, the WHO said, the "Medical City hospital center is reported to be running very short of water, which makes it almost impossible for the hospital to offer effective medical care to the people who need it."

The al-Kindi hospital, where many injured have been taken since the war started, is reported to have been looted, the WHO said.

"There have been no new deliveries of medicines or medical supplies from outside the country since before the conflict began three weeks ago. The city's already-fragile water and electricity infrastructure is coming under extreme pressure and standby generators are being overworked," the agency said.

Tulloch said health services in Iraq had stockpiled supplies and were not reporting shortages but that looting could cause drug shortages.

The WHO was flying in 50 surgical kits to Amman, Jordan, bound for Iraq with "sufficient anesthetics, surgical equipment and medical disposables for 5,000 surgical interventions and several days' post-operative care," spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.

David Wimhurst, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said: "The very difficult conditions in which Baghdad hospitals were now operating had been further exacerbated by the breakdown of law and order.

"Health workers, water treatment technicians and generator maintenance crews must be provided safe access to their places of work," he said.

The World Food Programme said it had tried to provide food sufficient for the entire Iraqi population for four months, but spokesman Maarten Roest said: "We need to operate in a safe environment in order to deliver ... the required food aid -- 480,000 tons."

CNN's Walter Rodgers said the Baghdad residents he spoke with said they had a sufficient supply of food and water.

"I have been talking with Iraqi citizens, many of them do speak English, and they say they've got weeks, perhaps months of food stockpiled in their homes. So there is no crisis here, at least nothing on the proportion that some of the international aid agencies would have you believe," Rodgers said.

"There is no electricity in parts of town, but there is food, there is water."

Rodgers said there are no shops open in areas he has seen in Baghdad and "no opportunity to go grocery shopping." But he said the city appears calm with the exception of sporadic fighting.

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