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Iraqi Children: On The Brink
Of Disaster

By Ghali Hassan

02 April, 2005

Since the US invasion and occupation of Iraq every aspect of life in Iraq has deteriorated. A new report released to the UN Human Rights Commission found that malnutrition among Iraqi children under the age of 5 years have doubled to nearly 8 percent since the US invasion of Iraq as a result of lack of clean water, food, and adequate sanitation. The report is supported by previous studies of the crisis in Iraq since the Occupation. It has been well documented and reported that since the early 1970s; Iraq had one of the best national health-care systems in the Middle East. Iraq boasted a modern social infrastructure with a first-class range of health-care facilities, and the Iraqi people enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East. Iraq had used its oil revenues, which accounted for 60% of its gross domestic product (GDP), to build a modern health-care system with large Western-style hospitals and modern technology. Iraqi medical and nursing schools attracted students from throughout the Middle East, and many Iraqi doctors were trained in Europe or the USA. Primary health-care services reached about 97% of the urban population and 78% of the rural population in 1990. But the Gulf war of 1991 and more than 13 years of US-Britain sponsored genocidal sanctions have left the country's economy and infrastructure in ruins.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), "Iraq had a modern sanitary infrastructure with an extensive network of water-purification and sewage-treatment systems. Water networks distributed clean, safe water to 95% of the urban population and to 75% of those in rural areas. In 1990, Iraq was ranked 50th out of 130 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, which measures national achievements in health, education, and per capita GDP". In the 1991 US war, Iraq's infrastructure such as water purification plants hospitals and sewage treatment plants were targeted for destruction by the US-British air bombardments, followed by the sanctions.

During the years of genocidal sanctions, materials and equipments related to nutrition, health and education were banned under the so-called "dual use" pretexts of the sanctions. The result: more than 500,000 children under the age of 5 were killed, with the full participation and acknowledgment of the US-Britain governments. In addition, Iraq has suffered an increase in the rate of child mortality than any other country in the world. However, the resilience of the Iraqi people proved to be stronger than the genocidal sanctions, and in 2001-2002 Iraq showed some kind of normality and improvements. Infrastructure was repaired and investments in Iraq's economy started to grow. The food rations system implemented by the former regime helped saved Iraqis from starvation. Access to hospital treatment has improved, but remains not optimal. Lack of spare parts and lack of expertise among doctors and technicians--who have long been isolated from modern technology--restricts the use of new equipment.

But the US War of 2003 and the Occupation have returned the country to the genocidal years and left Iraq's economy and infrastructure in ruins. A detailed study by the British-based charity organisation (Medact) that examines the impact of war on health, revealed cases of vaccine-preventable diseases were rising and relief and reconstruction work had been mismanaged. Gill Reeve, deputy director of Medact, said, "[t]he health of the Iraqi people has deteriorated since the 2003 invasion. The 2003 war not only created the conditions for further health decline, but also damaged the ability of Iraqi society to reverse it". Women, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable. Children in particular because of their not fully developed immune system. In its report of last November, the Norwegian-based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science found that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children between the ages of six months and 5 years has increased from 4% before the invasion to 7.7% since the US invasion of Iraq. In other words, despite the 13-years sanctions, Iraqi children were living much better (by 3.7%) under the regime of Saddam Hussein than under the Occupation. Officials from the institute, which conducted the survey with the UN Development Program and Iraq's Central office for Statistics and Information Technology, revealed that the Iraqi malnutrition rate is similar to the level in some hard-hit African countries.

The new report prepared for the UN Human Rights Commission by the reputed Swiss professor of Sociology, Mr. Jean Ziegler, reveals that more than a quarter of Iraqi children do not get enough food to eat. Mr. Ziegler, a hunger expert, is also cited The Lancet report of November 2004, which shows that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians - mostly women and children - have been killed as a direct result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq than would have been died based on the death rate before the war.

In presenting his report Mr. Ziegler said; "Most [Iraqis] died as a result of violence, but many others died as a result of the increasingly difficult living conditions, reflected in increasing child mortality levels" brought by the US war and Occupation. "The silent daily massacre by hunger is a form of murder. It must be battled and eliminated", added Mr. Ziegler. The report specifically cited Fallujah as a criminal case of illegal destruction by US forces. "It is proven that at Fallujah, denial, the blockade imposed on food and the destruction of water reservoirs was used as weapon of war", Mr. Ziegler told journalists gathered to hear the report summary. The practice was a "clear violation" of the Geneva Conventions and was widely condemned for its attempts to deny food or water supplies to the population. "I am simply maintaining a firm condemnation, very firm, of the humanitarian consequences of this strategy and the military tactics applied since March 2003 by the occupying forces", said Mr. Ziegler.

The report also criticised the policy of providing meagre resources to the international Alliance against Hunger when compared to the "billions of dollars spent on the 'War against Terror'". "The amount of aid being provided for development and famine relief is falling, as money is redirected towards strengthening national security and the fight against terrorism". "Yet the fight against terrorism should incorporate efforts to reduce hunger, poverty and inequality", said Mr. Ziegler. War in itself is a form of terrorism, which must be avoided at any cost. The war on Iraq was a premeditated murderous crime and the US Occupation of Iraq has failed to ameliorate the living situation for the Iraqi people. The only urgent and effective humanitarian measures to save the Iraqi children and avoid a disaster are to end the Occupation of Iraq, and return Iraqi to pre-war normality. The US and its "allies" can assist the Iraqi people by providing war reparations and help them build their country.

Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia.











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