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[casi] Catastrophe Threatens 12 Million Iraqi Children
Published on Wednesday, February 12, 2003 by the lndependent/UK

Vulnerable But Ignored: How Catastrophe Threatens the 12 Million Children of

by Leonard Doyle

"They come from above, from the air, and will kill us and destroy us. I can
explain to you that we fear this every day and every night." – Shelma (Five
years old)

It is not Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, but Iraq's 12 million children who
will be most vulnerable to the massive use of force that the US plans to
unleash against their country in the coming months. With or without UN
Security Council backing, the looming war on Iraq will have immediate and
devastating consequences for the country's children, more vulnerable now than
before the 1991 Gulf War.

A team of international investigators – including two of the world's foremost
psychologists – have conducted the first pre-conflict field research with
children and concluded that Iraqi children are already suffering "significant
psychological harm" from the threat of war.

The team was welcomed into the homes of more than 100 Iraqi families where
they found the overwhelming message to be one of fear and the thought of
being killed. Many live in a news void, with little information concerning
the heightened threat of war.

"I think every hour that something bad will happen to me" said Hadeel, aged

Assem, five, and one of the youngest interviewed, said: "They have guns and
bombs and the air will be cold and hot and we will burn very much."

But it is the fear expressed by the majority of the children that most
shocked the team. In a breaking voice 13-year old Hind told them: "I feel
fear every day that we might all die, but where shall I go if I am left

When and if a massive bombardment and invasion comes, the investigators
predict the consequences will be so dire that the plight of Iraqi children
must be given more priority when Britain and the US consider the alternatives
to war.

Because there is only one month's supply of food in the country and the
overwhelming majority depend on rations distributed by the Baghdad regime,
the chaos of war could tip a population of malnourished children into
starvation. And once American and British bombs start falling on President
Saddam's power stations, the country's main water treatment plants will fail
causing the rivers to become contaminated with sewage.

Millions of Iraqis rely on river water to irrigate crops and prepare food.
Drinking or even washing dishes in such contaminated water will make an
already vulnerable population liable to deadly diseases ranging from E-coli
to typhoid.

Before 1990, Iraq's health care system was the pride of the Middle East and
was described by the World Health Organization as "first class". The ensuing
Gulf War and sanctions have crippled the healthcare system causing death
rates of children under five to double over the past decade with 70 per cent
of deaths caused by easily avoidable bowel diseases and respiratory

Despite grave concerns at the highest levels, UN agencies are unable to
prepare for an emergency that has yet to happen without being accused of
clearing the way for war. The World Food Program is preparing to feed up to
one million Iraqis for at least three months, but once the shooting starts it
will have to pull out its expatriate staff.

Iraq's civilian population of 22 million is particularly vulnerable. Some 16
million – half of them children – are totally dependent on monthly
government-distributed food rations. The last 12 years of sanctions and
corruption within the regime mean that few if any families have stockpiles of
food to get them through a war of any length. The World Food Program supplies
basic foodstuffs, but deliveries are left to the Iraqi government and a
bombing campaign that destroys bridges over the Euphrates and Tigris rivers
will stop distribution in its tracks.

The report of the international study team, published by the charity
Warchild, warns that there will be a "humanitarian disaster" if war breaks
out. Children, already weakened and vulnerable because of sanctions are "at
grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma".

The experts expect casualties among children to be in the thousands, probably
in the tens of thousands, "and possibly in the hundreds of thousands".

The team concludes a new war would be "catastrophic" for Iraq's children.

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


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