FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Malnutrition in Iraq

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:

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail