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Some thoughts on 'Why don't they boil water'

A few memories and thoughts.

The two reference messages on 'Why don't they boil water' I think could be answered as follows:

1. Iraq is a large country with about 20 million people living in cities, towns and villages.

2. Supplies of electricity are interrupted frequently each day, even in Baghdad. Safe Gas bottle supplies cannot be guaranteed everywhere. Because supplies of electricity are frequently interrupted, so is the pumping of water, and so is the inadequate treatment of sewage.

3. In practical terms in villages, fuel (electricity, gas, wood) is of greater value then oil.

4. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health have long encouraged the boiling of water for all drinking - everywhere.

5. UNICEF has long advocated breast feeding of children to ensure the best possible nutritional health of infants etc.

When I was with UNICEF in Iraq in 1991/1992 we all worked endlessly, including Iraqi health workers, Iraqi women's organizations and NGOs in towns and villages. The Ministry of Health was very active in the Mother-Child-Care.

a. encouraging breast feeding

b. encouraging the vulnerable to visit the nutritional feeding centres

c. boiling water and the use of clean containers.

6. The whole infrastructure of Iraq is in such a state, that it needs much more than just boiling water to prevent more children from dying.

7. In the hot summer months the incidences of water-borne diseases peak. In a month or two the Acute Respiratory Infections will take over.

8. On breast-feeding and the milk powder: many mothers have to work to earn money, just to be able to eat and will change over to bottle-feeding early. Many mothers are eager to receive powder milk but do not use it for the newborn babies, instead they use it in cooking for the older children.

A quote: "...It is all a vicious circle. Beneath and behind the targets of the precision bombing, the country's lifelines were cut. Power stations were destroyed, or so extensively damaged that there were insufficient spare parts in the country to repair them. With the bombing of the power plants there was not enough electricity and without electricity there was no water purification system, and with contaminated water the way was free for gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, cholera - all waterborne diseases. The flat landscapes of many large suburban areas of Baghdad and Basra were flooded with lakes of sewage-filled water, as were the ground floors of thousands of homes. The two great rivers, the Euphrates and particularly the Tigris were seriously contaminated with sewage. On 29 January 1992, a government official told a group of us that six million cubic litres of sewage were getting into the two rivers daily...

    Malnutrition was caused mainly by the abnormally high increase in food prices and an insufficient supply of nutritious food on the market. Malnutrition was made worse by the increase in waterborne diseases...

    We preached endlessly to the mothers on how much easier it would be for all of us if they were to breast-feed; their babies would be less likely to suffer from diarrhoea or other illness than if they drank powdered milk preparations. We explained how mother's milk is pure and free, not like expensive products that have to be mixed very carefully with safe water...babies were most likely to receive water with sugar, rice-water, tea or very diluted milk powder..." (From my book 'Between Despair and Hope', Radcliffe Press London)

Margarita Skinner,  Switzerland
UNICEF Health Coordinator Baghdad 1991/92
and author of Between Despair and Hope





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