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NGO: Iraq children suffering from water-borne diseases in Basra

October 25, 2018 at 1:49 pm

A river in Iraq’s southern city of Basra [Mohammad Dylan]

More than 277,000 children are at risk of contracting water-borne diseases in schools, which have just reopened in Basra, but where water and sanitation facilities are woefully inadequate, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned on Tuesday.

Iraqi teachers informed the international NGO that an increasing number of children have been hospitalised since returning to school, suffering from diarrhoea, vomiting, rashes and scabies.

“With classes just reopening after summer, more than 800 schools are now breeding grounds for an epidemic of water-borne diseases, including cholera, as temperatures drop in the coming weeks,” said NRC’s Country Director Wolfgang Gressmann.

“We are extremely concerned that the deteriorating water and sanitation infrastructure of schools and the overcrowded classrooms will catapult the city into a veritable public health disaster.”

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According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the water crisis in the city and the region has already led to more than 110,000 people poisoned over the last three months. Doctors further fear that more serious diseases like cholera could spread through the city’s unusable water supply, affecting thousands more.

Once called the Venice of the East due to its numerous canals, Basra is suffering from significant pollution of its waterways, with rubbish and industrial waste leaking toxins into the sanitation system.

Authorities have been criticised for doing little to stem the crisis, despite the government claiming that it has a 20-year plan to rehabilitate the city’s water supply. Local officials say the government has been too preoccupied in forming the new cabinet to adequately address the situation.

In August, Basra witnessed widespread protests for several weeks calling for the improvement in basic infrastructure in the city. The oil-rich city, home to some two million people, has struggled to provide clean water and electricity as the country emerges from an intense battle with Daesh militants. Protesters stormed government buildings and a water treatment facility, resulting in the closure of the city’s main port for two days. At least 11 people were killed in the demonstrations.

With local authorities largely unable to help, NRC has appealed to the international community for aid in tackling the current crisis.

“We urge donor governments to fund the response to this unfolding disaster before it’s too late,” Gressmann said. “As one primary school teacher told us: Everyone is at risk now.”

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