Iraq `devastated' by UN sanctions - UNICEF head

 

"Fatalism" exists among Iraqi people and they believe conditions in their country will get worse, the director of UNICEF Ireland, Ms Maura Quinn, has said, after a 12-day visit to Iraq.

Ms Quinn said Iraq has been devastated by the UN sanctions banning imports and exports imposed on it after the Gulf War in 1990. Although the oil-for-food programme allows some food and medicine into the country in exchange for oil, supplies are lacking. In one hospital Ms Quinn visited, she was told by a doctor that half of the 19 babies in the hospital's incubators would die within two days.

Ms Quinn's statement comes just over a week after Mr Hans Von Sponeck, UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, resigned in protest at the impact of sanctions. There has been speculation that the resignation of Ms Jutta Purghart, head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq, was also over the sanctions. Mr Von Sponeck's resignation comes two years after his Irish predecessor, Mr Denis Halliday, also stepped down in protest.

Ms Quinn said her UNICEF colleagues in Iraq found it hard to deal with the situation, particularly because of the attitude of ordinary people. "It's awful that people don't feel as if it's ever going to change. They feel that the sanctions are going to go on and on. Instead of having three hours' electricity in Baghdad they will have one hour in a couple of years' time. That they'll have dirty water. They will have problems with sanitation," Ms Quinn said.

The monthly food rations the Iraqis are dependent on from the UN last only two to three weeks and do not contain any protein, according to Ms Quinn. A UNICEF report which came out last August showed that 25 per cent of children under five years in Iraq are malnourished and over 4,500 die every month as a result. Ms Quinn says she expects this year's UNICEF report to show an even higher rate of death among children.

Ms Quinn said hospitals were under-equipped with medicines and facilities and were overcrowded, with up to three people sharing some beds and people lying on floors in corridors. The sanitation and water systems were also showing strain. The pillars supporting the main sewerage plant in Baghdad were crumbling and there were pools of stagnant water on the litter-strewn streets. She said she visited schools where there was "no running water, no windows, no benches, holes in the roof, no clean water, no toilets, no books, the playground under rubbish with stagnant water".

Long-term mal-nourishment, Ms Quinn said, was having an effect on children's development.

"You could see it in the kids that were small for their age, in their reactions." All of the UNICEF staff Ms Quinn spoke to in Iraq wanted the sanctions lifted. "UNICEF staff on the ground say that day in day out, you are dealing with effects of the sanctions. You are dealing with no medicine for kids, you are dealing with no food. You are dealing with a country which has been brought to its knees."

Jas Kaminski adds: An estimated 100 million children suffering from the ravages of poverty, war and AIDs are the focus of an 18-month campaign announced in a report, Growing Up Alone: The Hidden Cost of Poverty, launched yesterday by Unicef.

"The trilogy of tragedies which lead to children growing up alone demands that we act now", UNICEF UK executive director Mr David Bull said yesterday in London.

The report looks into the physical and spiritual damage done to children from being alone, which has not in itself been assessed before, UNICEF says.