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:
January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail