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Children are dying in front of our eyes .. this CD brings them hope; YOUR KINDNESS IS SAVING AND SHAPING LIVES IN POST-WAR IRAQ.

Byline: ALEXANDRA WILLIAMS in Nassiriya, Iraq

SWARMS of flies dart at the rich pickings on the floor - urine, blood, a patient's discarded drip, a mound of rubbish piled near the overflowing bin.

I tread in the stuff as I vainly try to obliterate the stench with one hand over my nose. I lash the other hand about to ward off the flies.

This is the bathroom at the Maternity and Children's Hospital in Iraq's southern city of Nassiriya, though you would be forgiven for not knowing.

Apart from the odd doctor busy on rounds attending to women who should be celebrating life's miracle, there is no clue that this is a hospital.

As I follow Dr Mohammed Hasson, the senior paediatrician, we leave a path in the grime on the floors of the wards.

He is reluctant to show me the bathroom. He pretends that his immaculate English has momentarily failed. On pressing him, he shakes his head and shudders. He's embarrassed as he points in the vague direction.

Apart from being a snapshot of conditions, this episode illustrates the doctor's pride.

You see it everywhere - from the three men passionately washing a lump of rusty metal that passes for a car, to the refusal by workers in the hospital and orphanage to acknowledge that the bare rooms are the work of looters.

"The things that were robbed after the war are just being looked after by people," says Nassiriya Orphanage teacher Kaseem Mahid. "They are in safe-keeping."

He says this despite the looters' war booty including even the door hinges and kitchen sink.

But it is this very pride that is giving aid workers a boost. They believe it is key to the country's survival.

"The Iraqis see us as equals," says War Child's boss, Norman Sheehan. "They do not see in colours. In Africa, the white man is seen as the one who solves things.

"The Iraqis see you as a resource that can help them. Give them the resources and watch them take-off. They are a very proud people."

Norman, 47, is the man with the job of spending the cash raised from the Hope CD, launched last week by the Daily Mirror and War Child.

AN aid worker since 1985 - when he took what was intended to be a three-month break from his job as a fireman in Cork, Ireland, to go to Ethiopia - Norman is a master of aid distribution in war-ravaged countries.

He is targeting the hospital and orphanage, and setting up a bakery in Nassiriya, home to 300,000 people.

Part of the pounds 150,000 raised by CD sales in the initial few days has already bought beds for the orphanage and paid three months' wages for 260 hospital staff. But more is urgently needed.

In a recent survey in Iraq, 40 per cent of those children questioned said they could see no reason for living. It is this hopelessness and despair that is being addressed. War Child is easing the transition between a terrible past and a bewildering future.

We travelled to Nassiriya - wrecked in the war and by Saddam Hussein's forces following the 1991 uprising against him - to witness Norman's work.

It's the smell that reveals we're entering the city - a half-mile long rubbish dump sweats in the 106OF heat.

The city appears calm, though at night sniper fire can still be heard. But there is no evidence of the exuberance of liberation.

In so-called peace, the inhabitants of this bleak place face a new killer - disease. People are so desperate for water they are shooting at the pipes. Raw sewage has seeped into the water supply and aid workers fear a cholera outbreak. In the 400-bed Maternity and Children's Hospital, once comparable to European hospitals, 18-month-old meningitis victim Rua Zal sleeps next to kids with typhoid and black fever.

More than half of the patients are suffering from diarrhoea. Stray dogs roam the corridors at night, scavenging for food. Mothers use cardboard to fan their children and keep the flies at bay. Patients sleep on the metal mesh of the bed frame - the mattresses have been looted.

One 60-bed wing, and the water tank, were hit by a missile. In a two-bed ward five women and three babies crouch on the floor, despite an empty ward next door. They point to the fan when I ask why.

Two-day-old Sajad Raid, weighing just 2.2lbs, is in one of the few incubators. He was two months premature and is fighting against all odds. Eeman Kareem Kadhem, a nurse in the hospital for 15 years, says: "There's no electricity or water in the homes so everyone is coming here. Our generator is not reliable and we don't have enough drugs, sheets and incubators."

The urban nature of the fighting led to hundreds of civilian deaths and the destruction of a medical store that had three months' supplies for the province.

"We've just started paying most staff's wages, from cleaners to doctors," says Norman. "We have also bought disinfectants and fans, and drugs to treat black fever, which is a big killer here.

"We need to get the incubators repaired and sort out the horrendous fly problem. Within six months, there will be tremendous improvements - if people keep buying the CD.

"These families are watching their children die in front of their eyes and they know it's not necessary. Iraq's oil wealth could pay for this."

The CD cash is also being used to equip the orphanage, home to 85 children. Before the war there were three institutions. Two have been so badly looted and damaged that all the children are being accommodated in the girl's building.

What is striking is the wonderful atmosphere. The only toys these kids have are five skateboards given to them by the US Marines.

But they improvise. Two-year-old Sige doesn't know that the leg calliper she's playing with is anything other than the hat she wants it to be.

EVERY child now has food and a bed thanks to the CD sales. Ironically, War Child is having to buy back much of the orphanages' equipment from looters.

"In one case, the looters were told that the Marines would come round and sort them out if the generator wasn't returned," says Norman. "It suddenly reappeared. And we've got our hands on a sink.

"With the bathrooms, we are going to pay locals to install facilities. We want to get everything ship-shape and then hand it over to the new government.

"These kids are getting love and attention, so our job is easier. We'd like to update the staff's training and introduce a psycho-social element, which was a big no-no in the previous regime."

In a fortnight, Norman takes delivery of a bakery which will make 120,000 Arabic breads a day.

The city's propane gas complex was hit by a missile, so thousands of homes don't have cooking fuel. Most of the city's trees have been chopped down, so children are being sent farther afield for firewood.

The risk of finding unexploded cluster bombs is greater in these areas. Even where we camped, on the edge of town, we had to call the Marines after kids alerted us to one in the adjacent field.

"Everything's linked like a jigsaw," says Norman. "We want to encourage families to get their children back to school. Setting up a bakery means children can have a free meal at school, so they won't have to go out for wood. And here they'll learn about mines."

As I leave the hospital, Dr Hasson looks me in the eye and says: "Iraq has been saturated with war. We have had enough. We thank our friends - American and British - for removing Saddam but we don't want occupation.

"Leave and let us work with War Child and others until we get a new Iraqi government.

"Come back in six months and we'll show you how capable we are."

CAPTION(S):

AGAINST THE ODDS: Premature baby Sajad Raid fights for life in an incubator; By CGHGHGHGH; PLEA: Caring for a tot at the hospital; BRIGHTER FUTURE:; 'A young girl cuddles a baby in Nassiriya's sole orphanage, which is home to 85 children; Pictures: CHRIS GRIEVE
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 30, 2003
Words:1369
Previous Article:War Child Charity: HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM..
Next Article:ZULU WAR 'COVER-UP'.


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