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Iraq: the Children are Dying: More Now Than Ever

by Jay Shaft Saturday, May. 24, 2003 at 3:02 PM

The rate of death and starvation is higher for Iraq's children than ever before. Several hundred children are dying a week due to contaminated water ,starvation,and munitions such as land mines and leftover cluster bombs.

Iraq: the Children are Dying: More Now Than Ever

By: Jay Shaft, Coalition For Free Thought In Media


Some simple facts and figures about Iraqi child mortality:

According to UNICEF figures from March 03:

Half of Iraq's population of 24.5 million are children.

1 in 8 children die before age 8.

One in every four children under five is malnourished.

70% of all child deaths are from diarrhea or respiratory illnesses.

Preventable disease has risen 100% since 1990.

According to WHO over 15 million people now do not have access to clean water.

Malnutrition and Water Borne Illnesses:

Unsafe Water Killing Thousands

In Baghdad, a recent UNICEF report shows acute malnutrition rates in children under five have nearly doubled since a previous survey in February 2002. The report shows that 7.7% of children below age five are now suffering from acute malnutrition, compared with last year’s figure of 4%. Acute malnutrition means that a child is actually wasting away to the point of death.

The UNICEF study says that unsafe water may be playing a significant role in the findings. Poor water quality is mainly to blame for a large increase in cases of diarrhea among children in recent weeks. An outbreak of cholera seems to be growing also, but all the figures are not in yet.

“We can assume that the situation is as bad if not much worse in other urban centers throughout Iraq,” said the UNICEF Representative in Iraq, Carel De Rooy. “We knew going into the war that Iraqi children were poorly nourished. These findings make clear that not enough is being done to turn the situation around. Instead it has gotten worse.”

On April 29th, UNICEF released a warning because of the loss of stockpile of chlorine, the lack of sewage treatment, and the approach of the dry season during which water borne diseases increase in Iraq. Since then the water systems have broken down even further, due to looters stealing pipes, filtration equipment, water purification supplies, and damaging pipes and pumps. The supply of chlorine has been severely depleted, and UNICEF is having a hard time shipping in new supplies, but they are trying very hard.

The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, warned in a U.N. report on 5/21 that Iraq faces a dire emergency from disease resulting from unclean water. “You have bad water, you have children with diarrhea, you have malnutrition,” da Silva told journalists. Whether he is aware of the extent of the crisis that has already happened is not clear. He promised to bring the issue of the looting and untreated sewage to the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

According to a BBC report on 5/21/03, one hospital in Baghdad has 2-3 children dying everyday because of simple diarrhea and dehydration. The only thing doctors are able to do is to give fluids if available and watch the children fade away. Because of sanctions there have been almost no antibiotics or medicines available to help in cases of sickness from bacterial contamination of water.

At the end of April before the situation got as bad as it is now, there were tragic reports. One hospital in Baghdad reported over 300 cases of diarrhea in a three hour period. The rate of reported cases is now over 1000 a day just at the one hospital in Baghdad. Often there is no room for the children and they end up going back home to suffer and most likely die.

It is estimated that up to 100 children a day are dying from lack of clean water causing illnesses and worsening of already desperate malnutrition. This is hard to completely verify, but several studies have just been completed and more are being conducted. The general insecurity of Iraq hampers efforts to collect data and send aid to outlying and rural areas.

UNICEF is bringing in over 2 million liters of water a day and importing supplies of chlorine gas and tablets. They have been hard at work trying to repair pumping stations, but said there is a limit to what they can do when looters keep returning. Large supplies of therapeutic milk and high protein biscuits have been trucked and flown into Iraq, but distribution is still a major problem.

UNICEF has also been bringing in medicines to treat the water borne illnesses and disease. There was and still is an extreme shortage, but UNICEF is doing all it can right now.

UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer Dr. Wisam Al-Timini said that the survey found that more than 1 in 10 children were in need of treatment for dehydration. “Nearly three quarters of the children surveyed in Baghdad in the assessment had at least one bout of diarrhea over the previous month,” said Al-Timini.

According to all reports, hundreds of thousands of tons of raw sewage are being pumped into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers every day. Because the sewage treatment plants are unmanned, the raw sewage is just being pumped directly into the rivers and onto the ground without any treatment at all.

It was very bad before the war, but some efforts were being made to treat the sewage. Now the workers have all quit because of looting and lack of pay. Last night BBC showed one such plant that had just been looted again hours before they filmed there.

Cluster Bombs and Leftover Munitions

It has been reported in the south of Iraq that many children are being injured by explosives while looking for fire wood. They go out and collect ammo crates to break up for fire wood and often trigger unexploded munitions. The main part of the populace has to use a fire to boil water to drink. It is the lack of clean water that makes it necessary to boil the water in the first place.

Since the war ended the death rate from cluster bombs has been reported to be as high as during the war. Children frequently play with the cluster bombs and get hit in the face by the blast. Many times if the blast doesn't kill them they lose limbs and are maimed and disfigured for life.

Iraq Body Count has over 1000 listed deaths linked to cluster bombs and leftover munitions, and these are only the confirmed deaths in the news and from confirmed observations. It is reported by Al-Jazera that over 2000 have died from cluster bombs that they confirmed.

All over Iraq there are sites left by the Iraqi military that have been abandoned. There are anti-aircraft sites that still have ammo scattered on the ground in many locations. Many guns have been found still loaded and ready to fire. There was an incident last week where a 7 year old boy was shot by an anti-aircraft gun and killed.

Vast fields of land mines and anti-personal devices cover large areas of Iraq, especially along major highways and close to population centers. Children and adults frequently set of these devices while scavenging for metal parts to sell for food and necessities essential to human life. Many children have been injured or killed trying to take apart munitions for the scrap metal.

Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups put forth the case that cluster bombs are illegal by Geneva Conventions and constitute a war crime. It now appears there are grounds for the war crimes charge because of all the children maimed and killed during and since the war.

No matter what happens with war crimes cases, children are dying everyday from all the leftover ordinance. Many die from inadequate care due to lack of medical treatment and medicines weeks after the actual injury. Gangrene is a constant threat that kills many because of lack of antibiotics and medical care. What starts often times as a survivable injury ends up being fatal in the end.

The tragedy of the children dying seems to be endless. The mortality rate is increasing despite the claims that Iraq is safer and has been liberated. Nothing points to any safety or health for the children. For lack of clean water children are going to die in the thousands or tens of thousands, and the U.S. doesn’t seem to notice or be want to do anything.

The U.S. specifically stated that one of its main goals was to make Iraq a safer place for the citizens. In one of George Bush’s big speeches he declared that “Iraq is now liberated, the people no longer have to fear the awful regime of Saddam Hussein. The people are now safe to move onwards toward democracy, freedom, and a brighter future where everyone has clean water, abundant food and opportunity to be free.”

It looks like all the “liberation” did was worsen an already critical situation and cause the deaths of more children. The growing crisis points out the fact that the U.S. has been able to secure the oil reserves of Iraq very efficiently, but not provide safe drinking water or food to children.

The children of Iraq have suffered through long years of sanctions, malnutrition, easily preventable disease, and high rates of cancer and leukemia. Just when they were supposed to be ensured better health and welfare, it gets even worse.

(Many thanks to UNICEF for their valuable information. Parts of this article are excerpted from the 5/14 report. To see the original reports and get further info on this go to Thank you UNICEF for all the wok you have been doing to save lives in Iraq.)

Maccael Kaeler, one of C.F.T.M.'s over seas correspondents and editors helped with the research and fact finding for this article. He is can be contacted at

Jay Shaft, Editor, Editor, Coalition For Free Thought In Media

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