Church aid, photos reflect facts and anguish in Iraq

Baltimore, February 8, 2003 - The circumstances of Iraq's most vulnerable residents are the focus of current plans and actions by Lutheran World Relief and other members of ACT, Action by Churches Together. Relief goods are being purchased and pre-positioned in the region. Local church volunteers have been trained, where possible, to assist aid workers from the region.
But coping with the effects of earlier crises continues as well. For ACT this includes repairing water supplies and supporting health care (see photos.) The Iraqi population most at risk today has suffered the impact of two previous wars and of on-going sanctions. Each new report from the field stresses that their prospects will only worsen in the event of a new war.

In the past ten years, Iraqi families have suffered the greatest increase in child mortality in the world. Most deaths are related to untreated water and failed sanitation systems. Seven out of ten infant deaths result from acute diarrhea or respiratory infections. One quarter of the children are chronically malnourished in a nation that was once highly developed. The above figures are from a new report by UNICEF.

An ACT member agency is assisting doctors and hospitals in southern Iraq (see photos.) There, high rates of birth defects and cancer compound the water and sanitation problems. Residents, including church leaders from the region, allege that depleted uranium used during the last Gulf War is a primary cause.

"The real anguish of the mothers," according to Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Gabriel Kassab of the southern Iraqi city of Basra, is that they no longer wonder "Will my baby be a girl or a boy?" but ask "Will my child be born disabled?"

With reporting by Callie Long and Rainer Lang, ACT.