Prior to the UN Sanctions in 1990 and the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq had been ranked 67th out of 173 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. The index tracks such indicators as life expectancy at birth and access to adequate sanitation facilities. The high standard of living in Iraq depended largely on oil revenues, which have been curtailed under international sanctions. Lack of food, water, healthcare and education, and a collapsing or destroyed infrastructure and economy have contributed to a deepening humanitarian crisis.
"The infrastructure is sophisticated - like you would find in Europe - large water treatment plants, not hand-pumps. Therefore to do anything significant is costly and complex," says Hassan.
Sewage treatment has collapsed, resulting in 500,000 tons of raw sewage being discharged into water sources every day. This includes 300,000 tons of sewage discharged into the river in Baghdad alone. Electricity, essential for many services and previously enjoyed by the remotest villages, is now generally available for less than 12 hours per day in many parts of Iraq. This has an obvious impact on water quantity and quality, sewage treatment, health facilities, education and overall quality of life for the majority of the population in central and southern Iraq.
Over the past 12 years, CARE staff has seen most families exhaust their assets. In many instances, home appliances, furnishings, heirlooms, rugs and other household items have been sold to provide cash needed to pay for unexpected health care or other urgent family needs. Today, few families in Iraq have any cash or physical assets other than their family home.
According to the UN World Food Program, the government food ration is the primary source of family income for 40 percent of the population. Many families barter parts of their ration to obtain other essential items. The ration only lasts most families between 21 and 25 days. The kilocalorie content of the ration meets UN World Health Organization standards, but it is not balanced, mainly carbohydrate-based, poor in protein, vitamins and minerals. Chronic malnutrition in children under five years old has soared from 18.7 percent following the Gulf War in 1991 to 30 percent in 2000. More children are also getting sick. The average child under five suffers 14 episodes of diarrhea per year, which is an increase of approximately 300 percent since 1990.
"Because CARE works where the need is greatest, we know where every single hospital in Iraq is," says Hassan, who runs the Baghdad office with approximately 30 staff. "We do what we can. Our greatest resource is the ability and commitment of our staff."
CARE International began working in Iraq in 1991 following the Gulf War. Since that time, CARE is the only international non-governmental organization to maintain a continuous program in the center and south of the country. Since 1995, CARE's programs have focused on water and sanitation, health and children, providing supplementary food and milk to 97 pediatric hospitals. In the past 12 years, CARE's programs have provided humanitarian assistance to more than seven million people -- approximately one-third of the population of Iraq.
Atlanta: Lurma Rackley, CARE USA, firstname.lastname@example.org, 404-979-9450