AMMAN, Jordan — International relief agencies warned Sunday of a health crisis facing the 5 million residents of Baghdad, with hospitals overwhelmed and infrastructure devastated as U.S. forces tighten their grip on the Iraqi capital.
"We expect a severe deterioration of the health situation during the days to come due to the daily bombardment that results in damage of infrastructure and a sharp rise in civilian casualties," said a U.N. World Health Organization representative, Fadela Chaib.
The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said Baghdad hospitals were struggling to cope with a deluge of wounded that had stretched resources to the limit and caused growing chaos.
Chaib said medical staff in Baghdad's major hospitals were overwhelmed and access to health care and drugs was "getting more difficult as stocks currently cannot be replenished."
There were reports of shortages of medicines such as analgesics, antibiotics, anesthetics and insulin, as well as surgical items, Chaib added.
The United Nations' health body contacted 10 major medical stores in Amman, the Jordanian capital, to procure 54 urgently needed medicines and medical supplies to send to Baghdad as soon as possible.
WHO coordinator Jim Tulloch said from Kuwait that the agency was hearing reports of hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of wounded.
"The exact numbers don't really matter. There is for us no acceptable level of civilian casualties," Tulloch said on CNN.
"These numbers, whatever they are, are made up of individuals, children who have third-degree burns, children who have had to have their limbs amputated and will never walk again, pregnant women who are having miscarriages," he said.
"We feel it is extremely important to call on all parties involved in this war to do absolutely everything possible to minimize civilian casualties."
U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said extensive damage to Baghdad's infrastructure from the war was a major impediment to treating the wounded and getting aid.
"Damage to infrastructure is further hampering relief efforts in and around the city," he said, citing the destruction of a bridge leading south from Baghdad.
Water systems will be affected by the lack of maintenance at power plants and generators, although fuel was still available, Wimhurst said.
Wivina Belmonte of UNICEF said the agency was particularly worried about the effect of the war on Baghdad's children, almost half of the city's population.