Coalition forces will distribute all of the supplies, with officials calling the humanitarian assistance a key part of the “coalition’s objectives.”
“These initial supplies are just the first step to helping Iraq and its people recover from Saddam Hussein’s regime — and it shows we are here to help them,” a British navy spokesman said.
Coalition officials said Wednesday they had finished clearing mines from the sea lanes around Umm Qasr, including the Khawr Abdullah River, opening the way for humanitarian aid shipments. Deliveries to Umm Qasr had been delayed over concerns that Iraqi forces booby-trapped waterways and ports.
Seven trucks have already arrived at Umm Qasr from Kuwait City, bringing nearly 12 tons of food, medical supplies and other goods meant for Iraqi civilians.
The British ship Sir Galahad is also expected to arrive later Wednesday, carrying nearly 200 tons of food and over 90 tons of bottled water.
Meanwhile, residents of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, were still without electricity or a reliable source of potable water, officials at the United Nations’ World Food Program said Wednesday. British and U.S. forces had planned to use Basra as a main entry point for humanitarian aid, but ongoing fighting between coalition forces and Iraqi opposition has prevented aid from reaching the city.
The U.N. Children’s Fund estimates up to 100,000 children in Basra under the age of five are at immediate risk of severe disease from the unsafe water, especially life-threatening diarrhea.
About 13 million people, or 60 percent of Iraq’s population of 22 million, depended on food handouts and other humanitarian assistance for survival even before the war started, according to the U.N.’s World Food Program. The program estimates that some Iraqis have about five weeks of food supplies left.
WFP spokesman Trevor Rowe announced on Tuesday that the U.N. agency would request $1 billion to help feed the Iraqi people for six months, calling the project “the largest humanitarian operation in history,” Britain’s Press Association reported.