The House of Commons select committee on international development has published a report on humanitarian needs in Iraq. Committee member HUGH BAYLEY reports on efforts to get the aid flowing.

The humanitarian needs of the Iraqi war's victims change from day to day. First it was shortage of water, then hospitals ransacked by looters. So whose job is it to deal with these problems?

The Geneva Conventions, the rules for war, say the USA and Britain are responsible because we are the "occupying powers".

The United Nations wants to help. It has launched its biggest-ever appeal, for $2.2 billion - double what it needs for the rest of the world put together.

The USA has contributed $500 million, Britain $100 million and Germany $50 million. But, in the short term, money is not the problem. It is the difficulty of delivering aid through a war zone. The priority for our troops is to establish order and enable aid workers to deliver food, water and medicines.

Royal Navy minesweepers have opened a safe shipping channel to Iraq's main port, Umm Qasr. Two Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, Sir Galahad and Sir Percival, have delivered cargoes of aid.

The UN says Umm Qasr, held by British troops, is a "permissive" environment - safe enough for UN and aid workers to enter. The UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has declared 24 grain silos at the port safe and ready for use, so bulk food ships can now use Umm Qasr.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is one of the few volunteer agencies to have stayed in Iraq throughout the war. They are supplying the hospitals with clean water.

They pre-positioned 35,000 one-litre bags of water before the war and are replenishing stocks with their emergency purification units.

Everywhere clean water is in shorter supply than food, so Britain's Royal Engineers built a pipeline from Kuwait to Umm Qasr which is delivering 1.5 million litres of clean water a day.

Hospitals, struggling to care for casualties, have been hit by looters stealing equipment, medicines and even beds.

The Red Cross reports that Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad was closed by looters, but Iraqi civilians protected Al Karama and Al Numan hospitals from the grab-what-you-can brigade.

US soldiers protected Ibn Nafis hospital and armed doctors guarded Alwiya children's hospital as British and American commanders called for Iraqi policemen to return to work to restore order, and more than 2000 have done so.

They are carrying out combined patrols with our soldiers in British-controlled Basra, where most public health clinics are now operational and medical supplies are being flown in.

Soon, attention will focus on food. Before the war three quarters of Iraqis relied for what they got to eat on the UN's "oil for food programme". It was suspended when war broke out but has been restarted by a unanimous decision of the UN Security Council.

UN officials say Tony Blair persuaded the Security Council to bury their differences about the war, and restart the humanitarian programme.

Mark Malloch Brown, the head of the UN Development Programme told me: "The only hero in this is Blair."

The "oil for food" programme costs $800 million a month and, although the UN has some cash in hand, it needs to get Iraq's oilfields working again to keep people fed.

In UK-liberated Southern Iraq, oil workers are being re-employed and the oil revenues they earn will go into a trust fund for the Iraqi people.

Twenty-five years ago Iraq had a higher standard of living than many countries in Europe.

Saddam became the world's third richest ruler, but his people became incredibly poor.

Their average income fell from $2,143 when Saddam seized power 24 years ago to just $97 a year after the Gulf War.

While Saddam was building palaces and torture chambers, one Iraqi child in eight used to die from hunger or disease - this is 60,000 child deaths a year - and a quarter of the population had no access to clean drinking water.

Iraq's oil wealth was looted by the thugs and thieves in Saddam's ruling elite.

Last year they raked in $950 million from smuggling oil to Syria.

When theft by the government - and mass looting by ordinary Iraqis - is stopped, it will provide money for food, water and medicine and for rebuilding Iraq's shattered economy.

But in the short-term aid will be needed to plug the gap.

To donate to the Red Cross call 08705 125125; or visit:; or post cheques to Iraq Crisis Appeal, British Red Cross, Ref 16322, Freepost, London, SW1 7BR.

Updated: 10:11 Wednesday, April 16, 2003