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Iraq: UN relief agencies focus on garbage and vacs

Iraq: UN relief agencies focus on garbage collection, vaccination campaigns

United Nations relief agencies continued their rehabilitation efforts in Iraq today, ranging from garbage collection to vaccination campaigns to the possible revival of marshlands drained by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported an agreement to resume the cleanup of garbage that has been accumulating on the streets of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, for more than two months, posing a potential health hazard.

The accord was signed by UN agencies, coalition forces, the United States Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and municipal authorities.

Also from Basra, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it would receive the first shipment of diphtheria, polio, measles and tuberculosis vaccines. Babies born in Iraq since the war are without any immunity from those infant diseases owing to a lack of vaccines. The supplies will be handed to the Ministry of Health for distribution to primary health care centres, UNICEF said.

Meanwhile from Geneva, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) called for international cooperation on rehabilitating the Mesopotamian marshlands.

Some 50 experts brought together by UNEP concluded that the social and environmental fabric of the marshlands had been so extensively damaged that interested governments and organizations would need to collaborate if they were to help Iraqis ensure a successful revival.

The marshlands have been devastated in recent years by declining water flow and by the Iraqi government's policy of systematically draining them during the 1990s. Some 100,000 to 200,000 so-called Marsh Arabs are still thought to live in the region.

New satellite images analyzed by UNEP, however, now reveal streams nourishing the marshlands back to life and drainage canals swollen by an increase in water levels. Formerly dried out areas have been inundated as floodgates have been opened, embankments breached and dams emptied upstream.

But new challenges, including the staking of agricultural claims on dried land and concern that resuscitating the marshlands will also revive malaria and other water-borne diseases, seem set to complicate efforts to return the marshlands to their original state.

Participants in the meeting included the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNEP, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Assistance for Marsh Arabs and Refugees Intl., BirdLife International, the Eden Again Project, the Iraq Foundation, IUCN (The World Conservation Union), the Royal Holloway Institute, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), DHI Water and Environment (Denmark) and the US Agency for International Development.

In another humanitarian operation, this time in Modena, Italy, renowned Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, the UN Secretary-General's Messenger of Peace, raised more than €2 million (euros) through his annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concert last night to assist the return and reintegration of Iraqi refugees.

Mr. Pavarotti focused specifically on the most vulnerable 20,000 of the more than 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, attended the concert, featuring artists like Bono, Queen, Eric Clapton, Ricky Martin, Lionel Richie, Deep Purple, Zucchero, Andrea Boccelli, Laura Pausini and Mana.

The fundraising, campaign known as "SOS Iraq," will continue until 15 June.


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