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, noting that the current conflict has worsened the impact of previous wars and years of international sanctions that caused severe hardship in the country.
Iraqi hospitals lack qualified staff and basic drugs, and facilities are not properly maintained, the Red Cross said.
Public hospitals provide 30,000 beds, less than half of the 80,000 needed. Few Iraqis can afford to seek help in private clinics where consultations cost US$2-US$7 (euro1.30-euro4.50) because the average daily wage in the country is less than US$5 (euro3.20).
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.
ICRC's head of operations for the region said there was a general trend of abducting and killing professionals. "The medical staff has been particularly targeted," Beatrice Megevand Roggo said.
The neutral body said water supplies have also deteriorated over the past year, causing shortages and forcing millions to rely on poor-quality supplies.
"Iraq, which is a country relatively rich in water, has a major problem because the quantity and the quality are absolutely below all standards," Megevand Roggo told The Associated Press. Years of international sanctions in the 1990s made it difficult to import equipment for maintaining the water distribution network, which has been further damaged since the U.S.-led invasion, she added.
At current prices, families with only one earner spend a third of their income - or about US$50 (euro32) a month - on water alone, the Red Cross said.
"Very often women become the only head of the household," because men are killed, go to war or are detained," Megevand Roggo said. Iraqi women find it particularly difficult to take care of their family alone because of increasing social constraints on women working, she added.
She said that while security has improved in some parts of the country, 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," Megevand Roggo said.