Five years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis still lack access to basic health care, sanitation and clean water, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday.
The humanitarian situation in Iraq is among the most critical in the world, the Red Cross said. The conflict has worsened the impact of previous wars and years of international sanctions that caused severe hardship in the country.
Iraqi hospitals are among the hardest hit, with many lacking qualified staff, basic drugs and facilities that are not properly maintained, the Red Cross said. Public hospitals only provide 30,000 beds — less than half of the 80,000 needed.
With an average daily wage of less than $5, few Iraqis can afford to seek help in private clinics where consultations cost from $2 to $7.
The Red Cross said Iraqi officials estimate that more than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and more than 250 kidnapped since 2003. Of the 34,000 doctors registered in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country.
The humanitarian organization said water supplies have also deteriorated over the past year, causing shortages and forcing millions to rely on poor-quality supplies.
At current prices, families with only one earner spend a third of their income — about $50 a month — on water alone, the Red Cross said.
ICRC's head of operations for the region said security has improved in some parts of the country but more attention needs to be paid to meeting the basic needs of the population in order to prevent the humanitarian situation from getting worse.
"Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have essentially been left to their own devices," said Beatrice Megevand Roggo.
© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.