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Water in Southern Iraq May Be Undrinkable Soon

Water in Southern Iraq May Be Undrinkable Soon

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GENEVA (AP) -- Water supplies in southern Iraq could be undrinkable within weeks, leaving millions of people -- especially children -- vulnerable to disease, UNICEF said Tuesday.

Although many pumping stations that were knocked out during the U.S.-led war have been repaired, they are facing dwindling supplies of chlorine gas needed to purify the water drawn from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, said Marc Vergara, a spokesman for the U.N. children's agency.

Only a small proportion of raw sewage is treated in Iraq, with most being dumped in rivers. With the stations set to run out of chlorine gas within two weeks, untreated water could soon be pumped directly to Iraqi homes.

Vergara said UNICEF urgently needs $3 million to buy enough gas to purify water for 4 million southern Iraqis over the next three months. He also urged coalition forces to accelerate gas deliveries to the stations.

UNICEF also plans to boost the number of tanker trucks it is sending to the region from neighboring Kuwait, from 20 to 50 a day, Vergara told reporters.

Aid agencies are concerned that drinking unsafe water could cause outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and diarrhea.

"Diarrhea, which is annoying in the West, is deadly in this part of the world," Vergara said. The illness, which causes dehydration and accelerates malnutrition, already is one of the biggest killers of Iraqi children.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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