FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Malnutrition in Iraq

by RAMZI KYSIA

UNICEF just released statistics showing a significant improvement in the nutritional status of children in Iraq. According to the figures, over the last two years chronic malnutrition has declined by 23%, and acute malnutrition has declined by almost 50%.

The improvement is visible. At the hospitals IOve visited, particularly in Central and Northern Iraq, wasting diseases such as kwashiorkor and marasmus are no longer pandemic. And while doctors throughout Iraq continue to report shortages in essential medicines and equipment, pediatric cancers have replaced malnutrition as their chief complaint. Despite these improvements–UNICEF figures show that over 1 in 5 Iraqi children remain malnourished. Our work isnOt over yet.

There are several reasons why malnutrition has declined–almost all due to busting sanctions. One reason is, fairly obviously, because more food is available. In December 1999, the UN lifted the limit it had placed on Iraqi oil sales through the Oil-for-Food program, and in early 2000 exempted food from the security review process. This allowed Iraq to import more food, more quickly, and distribute it to families in need. Of the $24.2 billion in supplies Iraq has been allowed to import under the Oil-for-Food program to date, almost $10 billion has arrived in just the last year–allowing the Iraqi government to increase the food ration they provide to everyone in Iraq.

The last two years have also brought good rainfall, ending the previous drought in Iraq, and providing bumper crops. This not only increased the supply of food available in local markets, but brought down prices as well, allowing some families to supplement their ration at local markets. However, the ration still represents the only source of food for a majority of families, and, for many, their sole source of income as well. Sanctions still prevent the Iraqi government from spending its own money within the country. As a result, only dry goods, imported from outside the country, can be included in the food ration. The increased ration still does not contain any fresh fruits or vegetables, or animal protein.

Recent, illegal trade agreements between Iraq and its neighbors, and increased smuggling, have also impacted nutrition by bringing more goods and hard currency into the country. According to a September 2002 overview of the nutritional status of Iraqi children, UNICEF reports that O[m]ajor shifts in Security Council Resolutions and government of Iraq regional trade policies are among the basic factors that have improved child malnutrition in the South/Centre [of Iraq].O

Additionally, the Iraqi government, in conjunction with UNICEF, has built 2,800 Community Child Care Units (CCCUs), staffed by almost 13,000 Iraqi volunteers, in order to provide nutritional assessment, counseling, and therapy to children in need. These units now screen an average of 1.1 million children every year.

Without safe drinking water, children contract chronic diarrhea and are unable to absorb nutrients, so improvements in essential civilian infrastructures have also had an effect on malnutrition. Electricity is necessary to run water and sanitation plants, and Iraq has reduced its electrical deficit from 3000 megawatts in 1996 to 900 megawatts today. Iraq has also been able to increase the availability of potable water in urban areas to almost 2/3 of what it was in 1990. This has led to a reduction in diarrhea cases among children under the age of 5. But itOs not all good news. According to the OProfile of Women and Children in Iraq (UNICEF, April 2002), ODiarrhea leading to death from dehydration and acute respiratory infections together account for 70% of child mortality in Iraq. An Iraqi child suffers an average of 14.4 diarrhea spells a year, an almost 4 fold increase from the 1990 average of 3.8 episodes. During the same period, typhoid fever increased from 2,240 to over 27,000 cases.O

Despite repeated denials by every UN agency and NGO working in Iraq, the U.S. continues to claim that the only reason people are suffering under sanctions is because of their government. However repressive that government may be, the programs Iraq has put in place to deal with malnutrition, and the improvements that have resulted, should finally put to rest U.S. allegations about Iraqi OinterferenceO in the functioning of the Oil-for-Food program.

Unfortunately, recent improvements are likely to be short-lived. There is currently a multi-billion dollar shortfall in the money available for the Oil-for-Food program. In order to stem the OcrumblingO of sanctions, the U.S. has begun enforcing a policy on oil sales called Oretroactive pricing.O Under this policy, purchasers of Iraqi oil are not allowed to know the price of the oil they have bought for up to a month after theyOve received it. Given the volatility of the oil market, this uncertainty has led to steep declines in sales. According to the UN Development ProgramOs June 2002 brief for Iraq, Othe Oil-for-Food Programme is increasingly facing a financial crisis due to the substantial drop in revenues received from Iraqi oil exports and to uncertainties regarding the pricing mechanism.O If this crisis isnOt quickly reversed, the program will falter, and malnutrition rates will again begin to rise.

The other major problem on the horizon is the war George Bush keeps promising to deliver. If the U.S. bombs electrical plants, and water and sewage treatment centers in Iraq, as was done during ODesert Storm,O the result is going to be even greater epidemics than Iraq is currently suffering from. If civil war breaks out, or if the U.S. bombs roads, rail, and all the bridges, as was done during ODesert Storm,O the result will be country-wide famine.

Iraq began food rationing prior to the Gulf War, when sanctions were first imposed. The Iraqi government only accepted the restrictions on its sovereignty imposed by the Oil-for-Food program when it became clear in 1995 that internal stores were no longer able to meet the crisis caused by sanctions. This distribution of food, to 24 million people on a monthly basis for over 12 years, is one of the most massive, logistical operations in world history. How well this program could work, during the middle of a war and invasion, is not something we should want to discover.

If we care about the children of Iraq, then we need to stop this war from happening. But, in the end, the only thing that will truly end IraqOs humanitarian crisis, and put an end to malnutrition once and for all, is if we stop the war that is already going on. Economic sanctions are intended to damage economies and increase poverty. Increased poverty means increased malnutrition. And–no matter how hard UNICEF, or the Iraqi government, or anti-sanctions activists try–there’s no way around that.

RAMZI KYSIA is an Arab-American peace activist, working with the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. He was co-coordinator of the Voices in the Wilderness / Iraq Peace Team (http://www.iraqpeaceteam.org) from August-October 2002–a group of Americans pledging to stay in Iraq before, during, and after any future U.S. attack. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at info@vitw.org.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail