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Articles from The Independent (6th March)

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%%%%%%%%%%%%% Iraqi children are dying - you can save them %%%%%%%%%%%%%%% 

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% (Front Page Story) %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% 

Independent Iraq Appeal 
"Iraq's children are going through hell," Robert Fisk notes today in his
latest dispatch from Iraq. The Iraqi regime deserves no defenders. And
yet, as Fisk's reports this week have made clear, it is the innocent who
have suffered most. 

Readers telephoned throughout the day yesterday, pledging support for The
Independent's appeal to collect funds for sick children in Iraq.
Established aid agencies were supportive. The United Nations made it clear
that authorisation will follow quickly. Even the British government -
which initially suggested that there would be several weeks of delay -
said that permission could quickly be granted. Every application for
export of medicines must be separately approved by three ministries: the
Department of Health, the Foreign Office, and the Department of Trade and

The Independent will remain involved with ensuring that the drugs get
directly to those who most need them. The Red Cross and the
Birmingham-based Islamic Relief are among those who have said they are
ready to offer practical help in getting the vital drugs to the right

Officials of the UN sanctions committee said that authorisation for
medicines of the kind which The Independent is planning to send could be
issued "within two or three days". 

Medicines may be exported to Iraq, but remain in desperately short supply.
The drugs include vincristine and methortrexate, urgently needed for
treating leukaemia. There has been an explosion in the number of leukaemia
cases in Iraq, as reported in Robert Fisk's harrowing reports. The cases
appear to be connected with the bombardment of Iraq during the Gulf War,
perhaps from fumes from burning oil refineries which contained
carcinogens, or even from the bombing of Saddam Hussein's chemical warfare

Many victims are Shia Muslims, the group which rebelled against Saddam in
the south of Iraq in the wake of the Gulf War of 1991. That is one reason
why the Iraqi government has seemed determined to turn a blind eye to the
tragedy. The deliveries of drugs would be with the assistance of
international agencies, but would not be controlled by the Iraqi regime. 

The Independent Iraq Appeal, PO Box 6870, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5BT. 

%%%%%%%%%%%%%% Iraq's children cling on for a grim life %%%%%%%%%%

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%    By Robert Fisk in Baghdad %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% (page 18) %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

A visit to Philippe Heffinck's office is a grim business. Not because of
the feral children prowling through the garbage round the corner.
Certainly not because there's anything wrong with the UNICEF office in
Baghdad, a block of former apartments whose soft carpeting and subdued
telephone bells could be a government department in Mr Heffinck's native
Belgium. Coffee is served piping hot, with plenty of milk and sugar. 

Even the files on Mr Heffinck's desk have about them an anodyne quality.
"The 1996 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey" doesn't indicate much pain.
"Nutritutional Status Survey at Primary Health Centres During Polio
National Immunization Days" gives an almost positive gloss to Iraq's
deterioration. But dig through the contents of these white-covered
documents and listen to Mr Heffinck's cold, analytical words, and you
realise that Iraq's children are going through hell. 

"We have found that chronic malnutrition stands at 31 per cent for
children up to five years old," Mr Heffinck says in a deceptive monotone.
"That accounts, in the whole of Iraq, for 1.1 million children, including
the Kurdish areas. This is a serious problem - particularly serious when
you have chronic malnutrition up to two years old, because that is the
period when the brain is formed. You become stunted. There is a lack of
physical and mental growth that will afflict the child - his schooling,
his job opportunities, his chances of founding a family and quite possibly
his or her offspring as well." 

All this was said with the curt politeness of a civil servant, of a UN
bureaucrat going through his statistics. And one could not but reflect on
what this represents. While the UN inspectors are neutering Iraq's weapons
programme - and with good reason - the same organisation is imposing
sanctions that are crippling the country's children. Of course, Saddam is
to blame - Saddam is always to blame. But it is we who are imposing the
economic blockade on Iraq, and it is Mr Heffinck - on our behalf - who is
drawing up these dreadful statistics. 

"People think," he goes on, "that with more food and medicine, things are
going to work better. But the quantity of available water has decreased by
50 per cent and the quality of water has deteriorated in some Iraqi
governorates to 35 per cent contamination. Because it's not just the
water-treatment plants that need repairing in Iraq but the pipes as well.
Then you have the lack of electricity that contributes to the
deterioration in health." 

I already understood the revolting mechanics of electrical power and
water; a UN hygiene official had explained it to me, equally coldly, 24
hours earlier: when electricity is cut - which it is every three hours,
for example, in Basra - the pumps stop and the pressure in the leaking
water pipes falls. Into the vacuum is sucked sewage which runs out of the
taps. Even the original source of the water is now contaminated in Iraq. 

"There should be 5,000 tons of garbage collected in Baghdad every day," Mr
Heffinck says. "But the capacity available is only 3,500 tons - because
sewage treatment plants are not functioning properly. So very often the
overspill is dropped in the river - from which water is pumped for
drinking. In Baghdad, only 30 per cent of the population is connected with
a sewage system - the big majority use septic tanks which don't work well
in a shallow water-table like this. 

"But now many mechanical septic-tank emptiers are not working due to lack
of spare parts. So people are forced to empty their tanks into the drains;
and this is one cause of diarrhoea diseases and typhoid fevers among
children. "You have a lack of electricity, a lack of clean water and a
lack of environmental sanitation: the relationship between these three is
a deadly combination." 

Those files on Mr Heffinck's desk with their white covers tell the story
with great clarity. A child who is malnourished cannot fight diseases;
thus the large increase in the number of diarrhoea cases - on average,
every child in Iraq suffers 3-15 episodes of diarrhoea each year. But in
the past, a child entering hospital with diarrhoea had only a one in 600
chance of dying. Now one in 50 children are dying from curable diarrhoea. 

The statistics seem endless. Cereal production has fallen from 3.5 million
tons to 2.2 million, contributing to child malnutrition, which in turn
leads to disease and poor school attendance. Every child between six and
11 used to attend school. Now only 63 per cent of that figure turns up for

Mr Heffinck is not a man to make comparisons, but it doesn't take long to
work out the implications of his figures, the 1.1 million children with
chronic malnutrition, the 330,000 with acute malnutrition, the kwashiokor
cases turning up in their hundreds in Iraq's hospitals: the degree of
malnutrition in Iraq is about equal to that of Zaire. 

But the explosion in child cancer that has followed the 1991 Gulf War is a
subject about which Mr Heffinck and his colleagues refuse to make any
comment, even though they admit they have heard talk of depleted uranium
shells causing leukemia. And not once does child cancer feature in those
white files. 

Now isn't that an odd fact? 

Independent Iraq Appeal 

Readers who wish to help the cancer-stricken children of southern Iraq can
send cheques made out to The Independent Basra Fund, to PO Box No 6870,
London E14 5BT. 




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