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[casi] UNICEF: Iraqi malnutrition lowest in six years!

Qualified good news from UNICEF ...  A study released Thursday shows Iraqi
malnutrition levels are the lowest in six years, though still too high (and any
gains could be easily lost).  UNICEF attributes the improvements to:
 The continuing expenditure by Iraq of the majority of oil-for-food money on
 The UN lifting of a cap on oil sales
 The success of nutrition screening in Community Child Care Units
 Two good years of rainfall and bumper crops

I should add that these hopeful trends are echoed in the latest OIP note on the
implementation of the program (dramatic decreases in TB, increases in housing
construction, etc.).  See

Following is UNICEF's press release and a Washington Post recap (esp. notable as
it includes an excess death estimate).  I found no mention of the UNICEF study
among AP, Reuters, or the NYTimes.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA


Press Release
Malnutrition down by half among Iraqi children
Household survey in South and Central Iraq finds lowest level of malnutrition in
six years; still too high, UNICEF says

BAGHDAD / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 21 November, 2002 - Child malnutrition rates in the
south and center of Iraq have fallen to the lowest level since they peaked in
1996, according to a new survey released today by UNICEF.

The survey reveals that the rate of acute malnutrition among children has
dropped from a high of eleven per cent in 1996 to four per cent this year.

The number of children who are underweight also fell, from a 1996 high of 23 per
cent to 9 per cent this year. Malnutrition indicators are considered the most
sensitive gauge of the health of children.

The new data on child health comes from a UNICEF-supported household survey of
malnutrition among children under five that was conducted in the south and
center of Iraq by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Central Statistical
Organization in February 2002.

UNICEF attributes the improvements to:

 The continuing expenditure by Iraq of the majority of oil-for-food money on
 The UN lifting of a cap on oil sales
 The success of nutrition screening in Community Child Care Units
 Two good years of rainfall and bumper crops

"Despite improvements there are still close to one million children under the
age of five suffering from chronic malnutrition in Iraq today - that's nearly a
quarter of all children of that age," said Mr. Carel de Rooy, the head of UNICEF
in Iraq. "This is unacceptable. More still needs to be done to end the suffering
of a generation of children."

UNICEF said that the monthly government food ration received by virtually the
entire Iraqi population has made the greatest impact in reducing child
malnutrition. Under a programme agreed to between the Iraqi government and the
United Nations in 1996, known as the Oil for Food Programme (OFFP), the Iraqi
government was permitted to sell a limited amount of oil within the framework of
UN sanctions in order to purchase food, medicine, and essential supplies.

In 2000 the cap on Iraqi oil sales was removed, making significant sums of
additional revenue available for the humanitarian programme and the
rehabilitation of vital sectors, such as water, sanitation and electricity.

The OFFP budget is allocated by the Government of Iraq, which spends more than
$1.25 billion on food every six months. The food ration distribution is among
the largest of its kind in the world.

Whereas in 1991 the food ration per person in Iraq amounted to just 1,090
calories each day, increased revenue from the OFFP had raised the daily ration
to 2,215 calories per day in 2002. The drop in child malnutrition means that an
estimated 480,000 fewer Iraqi children are suffering from general malnutrition
today than in 1996.

Mr. de Rooy added that an "early-warning" network of nearly 3,000
UNICEF-supported government Community Child Care Units contributed to the
remarkable improvement in the nutritional status of Iraqi children. Almost
13,000 volunteers monitor the growth and weight of children at these community
centers. The centers screen around a million children a year, and malnourished
children are referred to health or nutritional rehabilitation centers for
supplementary treatment.

UNICEF said that an additional factor that led to the sharp decline in child
malnutrition in Iraq was the breaking of a three-year long severe drought in
2000, followed by two years of good rainfall. Agricultural output doubled while
the price of local food products fell.

"Malnutrition rates are very sensitive to changes in the availability of food at
the household level, so the recent gains could be lost," said de Rooy. "If there
was an exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, this could seriously
affect the distribution of food, leaving children at risk of severe malnutrition
once again."

Acute malnutrition, whose symptoms include muscular wasting and edema, is
considered by nutritionists to be the most important indicator that children are
at risk of death.


Child Malnutrition Rate Falls in Iraq
UNICEF Cites Oil-for-Food Program, But Says Situation Is Still Unacceptable

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 22, 2002; Page A28

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 21 -- When it comes to the U.N. trade sanctions imposed on
Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990, the official line of President Saddam
Hussein's government is that the continued embargo has been responsible for a
steady deterioration in living conditions.

So it was something of a surprise today when the government permitted UNICEF,
the U.N. Children's Fund, to release a report saying the malnutrition rate among
Iraqi children has fallen significantly since 1996. UNICEF attributed the drop
primarily to an exemption in the sanctions that allows the Iraqi government to
sell oil to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies.

"It is undeniable that the oil-for-food program has had a positive impact on the
well-being of children in Iraq," said Carel de Rooy, the director of UNICEF
operations in Iraq.

According to a survey UNICEF conducted in conjunction with Iraq's Health
Ministry, the proportion of children suffering from chronic malnutrition fell
from 32 percent in 1996 to 23 percent this year. The figure for underweight
children dropped from 23 percent to 9 percent in the same period.

Although the survey was finished over the summer, U.N. officials said they did
not receive permission from the Iraqi government to release the results. U.N.
officials said they were told the report needed approval from several people in
different ministries, but they believed Iraqi officials were worried about
releasing a report contrary to official pronouncements.

A few days ago, U.N. officials were told they could issue the report. But when
UNICEF held a news conference at a hotel in Baghdad to release the findings,
cameras from Iraq's government-run television stations, a conspicuous presence
at most news events here, were absent. At the news conference, de Rooy
emphasized that more improvement is needed in children's nutrition. Nearly 1
million Iraqi children still suffer from chronic malnutrition, he said.

"This is unacceptable," he said. "More still needs to be done to end the
suffering of a generation of children."

De Rooy also posed a question to himself: "Should the government receive credit
for this achievement?"

"Definitely," he said.

De Rooy said the government had "not really objected" to the release of the
report. "The bureaucracy here is quite slow," he said. "Getting permission to
release these things takes time."

He said he expects the improvements in nutrition to translate into a reduction
in childhood mortality, although UNICEF has not yet started a study of that
issue. The Iraqi government has said 1.7 million children have died from
disease, malnutrition and other causes as a result of the sanctions. U.N.
officials and Western health specialists who have studied the conditions in Iraq
said they believe that figure to be inflated.

One of the few Western humanitarian workers in Iraq, Margaret Hassan of the aid
organization Care International, called the UNICEF figures "incredibly
important," but warned against "blowing up the importance of discrete items to
reflect an overall change in society."

"The quality of life that most people have has not really changed much," she
said. "There still is an unacceptably high level of poverty."

U.N. officials also have expressed concern that recent drops in Iraq's oil
exports under the oil-for-food program could jeopardize purchases of food,
medicine and other products approved by the U.N. Security Council.

Iraq currently has contracts approved by the United Nations to buy $2.96 billion
worth of humanitarian supplies that it cannot pay for, according to U.N.
documents. Some of those purchases are foodstuffs, distributed according to a
rationing system that provides Iraqis with a basic diet.

>From May 30 to Nov. 15, Iraq exported 194.4 million barrels of oil out of the
489 million barrels approved by U.N. oil overseers, the lowest level of
shipments since 1998. Oil industry analysts attribute the decline to several
factors, including a desire by purchasers to line up other suppliers because of
fears about a possible war and a U.N. requirement that Iraq set its oil prices
at the start of each month. This is meant to prevent the government from
retroactively imposing surcharges that U.S. officials allege were being used to
buy arms and other prohibited items.

U.N. officials have expressed concern that the revenue shortfall could have
serious consequences on the government's ability to address humanitarian needs
by early next year.

"We're ringing the alarm bell," said Ali Hamati, a spokesman for the U.N.
humanitarian operation here. "If things continue as they are, we'll start to see
a very serious impact. Many of the gains we've achieved could be eroded."

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