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--Forwarded message: Sanctions blight Iraq's lost generation By Samia Nakhoul BAGHDAD, June 8 (Reuters) - Instead of going to school, eight-year-old Alaa Mohammed spends his days sitting on a sun-baked pavement in Baghdad selling polythene bags to support his destitute family. ``We have no money at all. I have to work to give money to my mother so she can buy food for us,'' said Alaa, sadness in his black eyes. The boy makes around 500 dinars (30 U.S. cents) a day. Alaa and his peers are known here as the ``generation of al-Hisar (the embargo).'' Their struggle for survival is a testament to the collapse of normal life under U.N. sanctions, imposed on Iraq in 1990 for its invasion of Kuwait. Alaa has heard of the ``hisar'' that forces him to spend his childhood on the street, but he is too small to understand it. Ahmed Mohammed, 13, makes a one-hour trip into the city every morning to sell handmade reed flutes for 450 dinars each. His joy is to go home with money in his pocket for his family. The tale repeats itself in every street of Iraq. The haggard children of the Gulf War have been thrown into a world of misery, where play has given way to worry about their daily bread. Toys and new clothes are unimagined luxuries. ``I feel happy when I sell and sad when I don't. I don't like to play. All I want is to make money to help my family,'' said Mohammed. The whites of his eyes are discoloured, betraying the malnutrition that is rife among Iraqi children. Relief officials say the physical hardships of Iraq's 22 million people mask the long-term erosion of an education system that once produced the Middle East's highest literacy rate in a country proud of being the cradle of ancient civilisations. ``How can I think of school when there is no food at home?'' asked Hisham Zuheir, 14, who washes cars. ``To go to school, I need money for stationery, I need books and I need clothes.'' SCHOOLS SUFFER Broken desks and chipped paint show the desperate shortage of funds crippling once-smart Baghdad schools. At the Amina Bint Wahba Primary School, students leap across a small canyon of broken sewers to reach their classes. They drink soiled water and use filthy latrines. Roofs leak in winter and there are no fans to ward off searing summer heat. Dirty classrooms, many without windows or doors, are crammed. Pupils sit on the ground for lack of desks. Books have to be shared and recycled. Some schools operate two shifts to teach 70 students in classrooms designed for 30. Iraq says it has been unable to repair classrooms of 4,157 schools damaged by allied bombing in the 1991 Gulf War and needs to rebuild another 150 schools. The quality of teaching has dropped because of the lack of resources and technology. A teacher earns 4,000 ($3) dinars a month, the price of a kilo (2.2lb) of meat. Many survive by moonlighting. The cash-strapped government no longer enforces compulsory education. Nor does it build schools, grant scholarships abroad and subsidise meals and school supplies as it did in the 1970s when it was flush with money from oil revenues. Under the new Iraq-U.N. programme which allows Baghdad to sell $4.5 billion worth of oil for humanitarian goods, Iraq earmarks $100 million for education, compared with 1.5 billion dinars ($4.5 billion at the official rate) it spent before the embargo. Gloria Fernandez of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said appalling conditions at schools and impoverishment of the family had led to a decrease in school enrolment and to an increase in the dropout rate, mainly in primary schooling. In 1995, she said, only 58 percent of Iraq's four million school-age children completed primary school. In 1998, 87 percent enrolled, but many never show up for class. ``The situation in the education sector is extremely worrisome and dramatic,'' Fernandez said. ``Between 1991 and 1998 you have one whole generation of primary pupils that is lost, which means the future generation of Iraq is lost.'' MALNUTRITION Relief officials say malnutrition is now affecting 37 percent of Iraqis under five, creating physically and mentally stunted children with learning disabilities. Headmistress Nadira al-Bayyati said she could see the effect of the lack of food on the children's minds. ``They are weak, they are tired and cannot concentrate,'' she said. One thing Iraqi children are learning at school is to blame the United States for their misfortune. ``I don't like America because it is fighting the people of Iraq. At school they tell us America is fighting us. They tell us down with America,'' said 10-year-old Ayman. ``America is mean state, it is an enemy. It is imposing an embargo on us and depriving us of everything. America hates us, I hate America too,'' said Mohammed Walid, a 14-year-old mechanic. Some children remember the Gulf War bombing. Others recall vivid images of their parents selling household goods to survive. ``The embargo took everything we have. We needed money, we sold our furniture, we sold our beds, our cooker and fridge. We have no food anyway to keep in the fridge, we get it day to day,'' said Zuheir. U.N. officials say Iraq's ruined infrastructure can be rebuilt but the damage to children will be hard to repair. ``It will be a long time before Iraq can recuperate. A recovery will require many, many years,'' Fernandez said. Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, in an interview with Reuters, accused the United States of seeking to destroy Iraq's education system along with its economy. ``This is deliberate. They want the Iraqis to eat food only but food is not enough. The new generation is a lost generation for Iraq. One of their (U.S.) objectives is to have this wealthy country run by poor and uneducated people,'' he said. Iraq's child workers, most of whom cannot read or write, may feel doomed to a life of menial jobs, but some dream of returning to school if they ever get the chance. That may come too late for this generation. ``They will be Iraq's most considerable loss,'' Fernandez said. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html