Iraq

Life in Iraq deteriorates with UN Sanctions

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Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
Life in Iraq has continued to deteriorate despite efforts by relief agencies to ease the humanitarian costs of U.N. sanctions. After nine years of a UN trade embargo, clean water, food and medical treatment are scarce and the country's innocent civilians are struggling to survive. The UN agreed in 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil for food, but despite the concession, the situation has only grown worse, humanitarian workers claim.

The UN imposed the sanctions in 1990 in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and plans to keep the sanctions in place until it is convinced that Iraq's long-range missiles and chemical, nuclear and biological weapons have been dismantled or destroyed. Since the sanctions began, the country, already ravaged by a war with Iran in the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf War, has sunk deeper into economic turmoil. Basic infrastructures such as hospitals and water systems have all but disintegrated and there is not enough food or medicine to care for the nation's poor and vulnerable citizens.

"After nine years of trade sanctions - the situation of the civilian population is increasingly desperate. Deteriorating living conditions, inflation and low salaries make people's everyday lives a continuing struggle," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report. "The weakest and most vulnerable who suffer from sanctions are young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic diseases."

Iraq's Health Ministry claims that the sanctions have caused more than 1.26 million deaths since 1990. Last month alone, 14,000 Iraqis died because of U.N. sanctions, Iraq says. Nearly 6,500 of those who died were children under age five. Most children die of chronic diarrhea, malnutrition and respiratory problems, the ministry reported.

Malnutrition has become a severe problem, the Iraqi government and humanitarian workers in the area claim. "Malnutrition in Iraq is not just epidemic, it is endemic," Hans von Sponeck, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, told the Seattle Post. Drought has exasperated the problem, forcing the country to dip into its wheat reserves in December, as quantities imported under the oil-for-food program were not meeting demand. Iraq claims that the program meets only 66 percent of the country's food needs.

The sanctions also prevent the country from making detrimental upgrades to its drinking water network, Iraq claims. Trade Minister Mehdi Saleh has accused the United States of refusing, through U.N. sanctions, to approve imports needed to fix water systems that are polluted.

Since 1996, the UN has allowed Iraq to buy some humanitarian aid by selling a limited amount of oil. But the program has failed to halt the collapse of the health system or the deterioration of water supplies, the ICRC reported. A new U.N. resolution approved Dec. 17 could erase the ceiling on oil sales temporarily if Baghdad cooperates with a new U.N. arms inspection body. The Iraqi government has so far failed to give in to the most recent demands.

Relief agencies have attempted to bring aid to the ailing country, but a lack of infrastructure has hampered their progress. "Humanitarian action alone cannot solve all the problems that people are facing as a result of the embargo," said Michel Minnig, former ICRC head of delegation in Baghdad.

Although the oil-for-food program has allowed Iraq to import some medicines and medical supplies, the country's hospitals are struggling to survive. "We have noticed that particularly in the hospitals, the situation in Iraq is such that these hospitals will take only a short time and these hospitals will not be functional anymore," Minnig told Agence France-Presse. "Under these circumstances of course you cannot provide medical care even if you have imported the equipment from abroad."

On a rare media trip to report on the country's conditions, Seattle Post reporter Larry Johnson described the hospitals as lacking in the most basic of supplies. They are infested with flies and smell of urine and feces. The electricity is turned off periodically each day to conserve. Due to a lack of supplies and medicines, patients succumb everyday to illnesses that normally are easily treated. Doctors and nurses lack necessary medical skills and instruments are old, broken and can't be replaced under the sanctions.

Without access to basic medical care, civilians are dying unnecessarily, the Iraqi government claims. Infant mortality has tripled and the death rate among children under age five has grown at least six times since the sanctions were imposed, according to the ICRC. Heart conditions, hypertension, diabetes, diarrhea, malnutrition and other illnesses that could be easily treated have become incurable, according to Iraq's health ministry.

A team of Spanish doctors who visited Iraq's hospitals also blamed a sharp rise in leukemia cases among children on depleted uranium shells used by US-led allies in the 1991 Gulf War. They also point to water pollution resulting from the conflict as well as malnutrition. Leukemia can be fatal, but it is often a curable type of cancer.

"U.N. Resolution 986 covers the population's basic needs in food and medicine but this has no effect on the country's deteriorating infrastructure. In hospitals, for example, most of the bulbs in operating theatre lamps are broken and basic tools such as sterilizers are out of order. These are the specific kinds of problems the ICRC wants to address," Minnig said.

The ICRC has begun rehabilitating Iraq's crumbling hospitals and has launched an appeal for 7.7 million Swiss francs to finance the project. But the humanitarian organization warns that it will be impossible under the sanctions to address all the hospitals' needs.

Some critics claim that the sanctions are unjust and hurt innocent civilians more than they do the Iraqi government. But the United States and other advocates maintain that sanctions sometimes are the only way to oppose undesirable rulers - even if the sanctions endanger the lives of the vulnerable population caught in the middle of the conflict.

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© Copyright 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.