Annan warns of humanitarian crisis in Basra

Tuesday 25 March 2003 01:00

The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today warned of a humanitarian crisis in the Iraqi city of Basra, where coalition forces were involved in fierce fighting.

Asked whether coalition forces were looking after the needs of the Iraqi people, Annan said he had been told by the Red Cross that "the people in Basra may be facing a humanitarian disaster."

Power cuts have halted water supplies to large parts of the city, which is home to about a million people. Mr Annan said "urgent measures" needed to be taken to restore the supplies.

He also urged all sides in the conflict in Iraq to act in accordance with international laws governing war, and made clear that the US and its allies "are responsible for the safety and welfare" of the Iraqi people.

"Prisoners of war have to be treated humanely. Both sides have a responsibility to ensure that this is done," he said.

In the UK, the International Development Secretary Clare Short told MPs that healing rifts in the international community over war in Iraq is essential to dealing with the humanitarian consequences and post–war reconstruction.

She said there was "a sense of regret and dismay" at the UN at divisions over the handling of the crisis and that there was "a growing will" to reunite all countries behind the need to help the people of Iraq in the aftermath of the conflict.

Ms Short, in her first appearance in the Commons since her controversial decision to remain in the cabinet at the outbreak of war, said the UN had already made "detailed preparations" to resume its aid work.

Top priority was the restoration of the Oil For Food programme – which would require a fresh UN resolution, she said.

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