Almost one million children in southern and central Iraq are chronically malnourished, according to survey results published today.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), carried out by the Government of Iraq with the full participation of UNICEF, looked at a range of health, nutrition and education issues -- from immunization and safe water to school enrolment rates. The survey, which covered a total of 6,375 households throughout southern and central Iraq last year, was followed by two further nutritional surveys in April 1997 and in October/November 1997, covering the same governorates, with the participation of UNICEF and support from the World Food Programme.
The most alarming results are those on malnutrition, with 32 per cent of children under the age of five, some 960,000 children, chronically malnourished -- a rise of 72 per cent since 1991. Almost one quarter (around 23 per cent) are underweight -- twice as high as the levels found in neighbouring Jordan or Turkey.
"What we are seeing is a dramatic deterioration in the nutritional well-being of Iraqi children since 1991," says Philippe Heffinck, UNICEF Representative in Baghdad. "And what concerns us now is that there is no sign of any improvement since Security Council Resolution 986/1111 came into force."
The results come on the eve of the publication of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's 180-day report on the impact of Security Council Resolution 986/1111 (commonly known as oil-for-food) which came into effect in December 1996.
All three surveys found that around one quarter of children under the age of five were underweight, with no improvement since the first survey was carried out in 1996. There was little or no improvement in the figures for underweight infants in 1997, with 14.6 per cent of infants underweight in October, compared to 14.7 per cent in April.
Some areas have been particularly badly hit, with the MICS results from the Governorate of Missan, in the east of the country, showing chronic malnutrition in almost half the children under the age of five.
There is also concern at the low primary school enrolment rate across southern and central Iraq which, according to the MICS, stands at 73 per cent of children aged six to 11 years. This suggests that around one quarter of primary school age children are not in school at all.
"It is clear that children are bearing the brunt of the current economic hardship," says Mr. Heffinck. "They must be protected from the impact of sanctions. Otherwise, they will continue to suffer, and that we cannot accept. "
The MICS also reveals serious problems in rural areas, where only half the people have access to a water supply from a network, public tap or well, compared to 96 per cent of people living in towns and cities. Only 34 per cent have a sanitary type of latrine, compared to 97 per cent of the urban population. Immunization rates are some 10 to 15 per cent lower in rural areas and the survey found similar gaps in the proportion of rural children who have received Vitamin A supplements and on the numbers entering primary school.
Unexpectedly perhaps, the rural-urban division evaporates when it comes to malnutrition, with children no more malnourished in the countryside than in the towns and cities. Ready access to locally produced food and higher incidence of breastfeeding provide at least some protection for rural children who, according to the survey, lag behind in so many other areas.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey does reveal some positive, as well as negative, trends. About half of all children surveyed had received at least one dose of Vitamin A, and immunization coverage remains adequate, with at least 80 per cent of children aged one to two years immunized against measles. The survey reveals no significant gender disparities between boys and girls in any of the areas examined.
UNICEF is working throughout Iraq to tackle child malnutrition by organizing training workshops for nutrition workers and promoting the benefits of breastfeeding. UNICEF also supports growth monitoring in 1,000 community child care units and therapeutic feeding in 60 nutrition rehabilitation centers.
Disastrous situation in Iraq
Child malnutrition prevalent in central/south Iraq
Nine aid agencies working in Baghdad called for the seven-year-old sanctions
to be lifted on Tuesday, November 25, saying they inflicted malnutrition,
epidemics and "critical" unemployment levels on Iraq.
They said a UN-brokered deal allowing Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to buy food and medicine covered barely 10% of Iraq's requirements.
"The real solution is lifting the embargo," the agencies said. They said the impact of the sanctions, imposed on Iraq by the UN for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, included the "alarming appearance of malnutrition in one out of four children" and hospital reports of an increase in "chronic diseases and preventable infections that are reaching epidemic proportion".
The statement said water contamination had had "drastic health consequences" and unemployment had reached "a critical level". Schools lacked essential teaching materials, and farmers could not grow enough food because of a lack of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds.
The statement was signed by Associazione Amici dei Bambini, Bridge to Baghdad - Un Ponte per Baghdad, Children Concern International, Enfants du Monde - Droits de l'Homme, Equilibre, Movimiento por la Paz el Desarme y la Libertad, Middle East Council of Churches, Pharmaciens sans Frontieres International Committee, and Friendship and Solidarity - Iraqi and Japanese Children.
Meanwhile a private American group Voices in the Wilderness defied U.S. law by delivering medical aid to Iraq. Medical supplies were sent to two hospitals in the Iraqi capital Baghdad where basic medicines and cash are in short supply.
Dan Handleman was critical of the international community's policy on Iraq. "I think it is ironic that there are weapons inspectors here looking for weapons of mass destruction, when they need look no further than the U.S.-U.N. economic sanctions. That is a weapon of mass destruction," Handleman told CNN in Baghdad, Tuesday.
The private welfare organization brought $40,000 worth of medicine for two children's hospitals, ignoring U.S. law that requires special permits for travel and export of goods to Iraq. The group admits that its aid is a drop in the bucket at best, but its message is markedly different from Washington's hard-line stance on Iraq.
U.N. agencies say that health conditions in Iraq have declined dramatically since international trade sanctions were imposed seven years ago. A 1995 UN report said that over half a million Iraqis had died as a result of the sanctions.Updating the figures Iraq says 1.2 million of its people have died as a result of the embargo despite a limited Oil-for-food deal implemented last year.
In an official statement published by the Iraqi News Agency Iraq says it has complied with United Nations resolutions and that UN sanctions imposed when Iraqi forces went into Kuwait in August 1990 should be lifted. Last week Mr. Hubert Vedrine French Foreign Minister had stressed that terms for lifting the sanctions on Iraq must be clearly stated now because the crisis over the expulsion of American.
"Our view is that we must be able to state clearly under what conditions and when Iraqis will be able to come out of the tunnel," he added, referring to economic sanctions. "We must not give the impression, as the United States has over the past few years, that there would never be an end to the tunnel or a lifting of the embargo even if Iraqis fulfilled all their obligations, even if they dismantled all massive destruction programmes," he said he told France Inter radio.