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[casi] UNICEF: Iraq survey finds child health sliding

Press Centre
Press Release

UNICEF: Iraq survey finds child health sliding

UNICEF finds that acute malnutrition has doubled in past year

BAGHDAD / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 14 May 2003 - Two months after the start of the
Iraq war, UNICEF has called for urgent action to halt what it believes is
the plummeting nutritional status of Iraqi children.

UNICEF today released troubling findings from a rapid nutrition assessment
undertaken in Baghdad, which has found that acute malnutrition rates in
children under five have nearly doubled since a previous survey in February

"We can assume that the situation is as bad if not much worse in other urban
centres throughout Iraq," said the UNICEF Representative in Iraq, Carel De
Rooy. "We knew going into the war that Iraqi children were poorly nourished.
These findings make clear that not enough is being done to turn the
situation around. Instead it has gotten worse."

The UNICEF rapid nutrition assessment was confined to Baghdad because of
general insecurity throughout the country. Nevertheless, it shows that 7.7
per cent of children under age five are suffering from acute malnutrition,
compared with last year's figure of 4 per cent. Acute malnutrition signifies
that a child is actually wasting away.

Rapid assessments are used by humanitarian agencies in the immediate
aftermath of emergencies. Although the samples they are based on are
limited, they are considered sufficiently reliable to guide an initial aid

UNICEF says that unsafe water from disrupted water services may be playing a
significant role in the findings. Poor water quality is largely to blame for
a rapid increase in cases of diarrhoea among children in recent weeks.

Speaking from Baghdad, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer Dr. Wisam
Al-Timini said that the survey found that more than 1 in 10 children were in
need of treatment for dehydration.

"This suggests exactly what we know: Poor water and sanitation leads to diar
rhoea, and then to dehydration and malnutrition. These children need
treatment to stop their bodies from wasting because of an inability to
retain vitamins and nutrients from ordinary foods. Those severely
malnourished who do not get treatment are at very high risk of dying."

Hundreds of thousands of tons of raw sewage are pumped into the Tigris and
Euphrates rivers every day. Because most Iraqis obtain their drinking water
from these rivers, the water must first pass through treatment plants, of
which there are more than 1,000 across Iraq.

However, looters have stripped bare many water plants, including even heavy
machinery, rendering them useless. Supplies of water cleaning chemicals have
been stolen or destroyed. Looters are piercing water pipes for commercial
use, destroying the pressure needed to supply large urban areas. As a
result, the quality of water being pumped into homes is extremely poor -
leading to illness and wasting among children.

"Nearly three quarters of the children surveyed in Baghdad in the assessment
had at least one bout of diarrhoea over the previous month," said Al-Timini.
"If we compare these results with earlier findings, we note that children
who have generally grown over the past few years because of improved
nutrition have suddenly and dramatically wasted. This coincides with war and
the breakdown of social services. It's not conclusive, but it suggests that
the shift of children into the acutely malnourished category is recent."

Two weeks ago, UNICEF warned of an approaching health crisis because of the
loss of stockpiles of chlorine, and the approach of the dry season during
which water-borne diseases increase in Iraq. War, the looting of hospitals,
the disruption of the health system, the breakdown of water services, and a
state of insecurity that has made relief deliveries difficult and has left
looters largely unhindered, have all been contributing factors.

A tragic corollary to the breakdown of water services has been the increase
in children being killed and wounded in the south by explosives. The
shortage of fuel to boil water has led children to scavenge for firewood
among ammunition crates stored in hundreds of depots.

UNICEF's Response

UNICEF is trucking more than 2 million litres of clean water into Iraq each
day, and importing supplies of chlorine gas and tablets. Community water
stations have been set up at hospitals and health stations across the
country, and UNICEF is collaborating with NGOs to detect and treat
malnutrition in order to prevent child mortality. Supplies of therapeutic
milk and high protein biscuits have been trucked and flown into the country.
Teams have made emergency repairs to pumping stations, but UNICEF says there
is a limit to what can be done as looting continues on a daily basis.

"We know the risks that Iraq's children face, and we know what to do," said
De Rooy. "But we are humanitarian workers, not police. Secure aid delivery
equals effective aid delivery. Weeks later, we are still calling on somebody
to deliver that security."


UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals,
foundations, businesses, and governments. Contributions to UNICEF's ongoing
support for Iraq children can be made at

For further information please contact us:.
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Iraq (Amman), Mob.: (00962-79 692 6191)
Rawhi Abeidoh, UNICEF Newsdesk, (Amman), Mob.: (00962-79 504 2058)
Anis Salem, UNICEF - Regional Office, Jordan, Mob.: (00962-79 557 9991)
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: (4122) 909-5517
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326-7261

For interviews in the region, write or call directly to the UNICEF NewsDesk
in Amman:

(962-79) 50 422 058

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