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[casi] Iraqi children face disasters caused by US-led war

Iraqi children face disasters caused by US-led war

ROME: Disease and unexploded ammunition could kill thousands of Iraqi
children unless immediate priority is given to their protection, says the
UNICEF chief representative in Baghdad.

Hundreds of thousands more are prone to injury, abuse and exploitation, the
United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) representative Carel de Rooy told
IPS in a phone interview. Children below 15 years of age are nearly 12
million (44 percent) of the 27 million Iraqi populations. Unexploded
munitions are an immediate danger.

"The whole country is littered with instruments of war, even the schools,"
says de Rooy. "Just to give you an idea, two weeks ago 1700 sites with
unexploded munitions were identified only in Baghdad.

"We are now engaged in a campaign to prevent people, children especially,
from touching munitions," he says. "Munitions look attractive in their
yellowish or silvery colours, so the children pick them up."

In the last two weeks of April, 260 civilians were injured or killed just in
the city of Kirkuk, according to an official report. More than half of them
were children. "This is terrible, indeed," de Rooy says. "But many more
children are dying of diarrhoea. Those silent deaths are much, much worse,
and they do not attract much media attention."

Between May 17 and June 4 the World health Organisation (WHO) reported 1,549
cases of acute water diarrhoea in Basra city. A large number of them are
children. The newly born are most threatened by disease.

None of the approximately 210,000 children born in Iraq in the past three
months has been vaccinated against any of the diseases they are vulnerable
to, de Rooy says. "Given the current conditions in the country, all children
are at greater risk than ever if they are not vaccinated right away."

About 4.2 million children below five are now considered vulnerable to
preventable diseases such as polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles
and tuberculosis. Iraq lost all its vaccine stocks when the Vaccine and
Serum Institute of Baghdad was hit by missiles, and electricity to the store
room was cut. "With the fall of Saddam came the breakdown of much of Iraq's
health system," says de Rooy. "Only 60 percent of the primary health care
centres survived," says de Rooy. "New equipment is now coming into the
country and hopefully, I say hopefully, we will reactive them by the end of
the year."

UNICEF has repaired five out of 10 huge storage refrigerators that were
destroyed. It has brought 25 million doses of vaccines and is re-starting
the immunisation programme in partnership with the reactivated Ministry of

UNICEF has raised about 90 million dollars for the programme from European
countries, the European Commission, Canada, Japan, and the US, de Rooy says.
But the intervening gap could be dangerous. Before the last war Iraq was
certified polio-free, measles had been brought under control, and maternal
and neonatal tetanus eliminated with the support of UNICEF and WHO. "Today
there are few restrictions on the spread of polio, and re-emergence could
also infect people in neighbouring countries, thereby threatening the
region," de Rooy says.

UNICEF sees street children as a growing problem. "Prior to the 1991 Gulf
War, the problem simply did not exist," de Rooy says. "There was a very high
rate of children in the schools, and no child labour. The international
economic blockage enforced that year to put pressure on Saddam Hussein took
children out from school into the labour market." "Poverty is pushing
children into the streets," de Rooy says.

"They just need to make their living and bring home some dinars (the local
currency) at the end of the day." Independent reports indicate that their
conditions have worsened after the war launched on March 20 by the United
States and Britain to remove Saddam Hussein's government. Iraq is currently
administrated by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by a US
official, L. Paul Bremer. UNICEF is asking for introduction of social
policies that take children back to their families and back to school as a
way of protecting them from exploitation and injury.

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