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RE: [casi] re Washington Post article

Hi Tim,

Thanks for your e-mail, and for the points raised in it.  Before discussing
specific comments that have been made in this exchange, I want to note a
general difficulty: all of us, myself included, are trying to assess the
state of Iraq's economy on the basis of anecdote.  The reason that we have
national statistics is precisely because anecdote is an unreliable guide to
these sort of aggregate indicators.  Nevertheless, in the absence of proper
data, this is the best that we can do.

> "People were penniless and the government strictly rationed milk
> and sugar to ensure that the country's embargoed food supplies
> covered necessities.  But those days are past."
> How about some evidence? Is not the government still rationing
> food? Has the nutritional status of Iraqi children improved?
> Colin, you say the ration is "adequate".Why then are such a high
> number of children chronically malnourished, if not because
> sanctions, in one form or another continue to starve and kill.
> What's an "adequate"  level of death from sanctions?

It's certainly the case that, under 'oil for food' nutritional intake has
increased.  Indeed, one of the reasons that the Iraqi government returned to
negotiations seems to be that it realised that it could not 'tough out' the
sanctions: its ability to provide a food ration had declined substantially.
OFF increased the income available to do so, and that has helped to
stabilise the nutritional situation.  Yes, the food ration continues to be
distributed and, yes, the general sense is that it represents a considerable
share of household's monthly income.

On the ration's adequacy, my posting yesterday may have been careless.  I
wrote, "One of them wants to slap journalists who ask why people are
complaining, given that the ration is adequate."  Perhaps I should have
written, "One of them wants to slap journalists who ask why people are
complaining, given that the journalists perceive the ration to be roughly
adequate."  The last update on the ration that I've seen from the UN was in
the Phase X 150 day report from last November (see

38. The prevailing socio -economic conditions do not
allow a large portion of the Iraqi population to
adequately complement the food basket, although the
prices of food basket commodities have generally
remained stable during the reporting period. Even
though the distribution plans from phases VIII to X
correspond approximately to the recommendation,
contained in my supplementary report submitted to the
Security Council in February 1998 (S/1998/90,
para. 31), of 2,463 kilocalories and 63.6 grams of
protein per person per day, the food ration distributed
during the period provided only 2,229 kilocalories and
50.48 grams of protein per person per day.

I don't have any insight into why the government's ration is less than what
it has planned for in the distribution plans.  This has been the case for
some time, though.  More generally, though, kilocalories do not equal
wellbeing.  (See, for example, the WFP/FAO's September 2000 assessment,
which raises concerns about adult obesity in Iraq:  Even at the
most basic level of life or death health depends on more than just
kilocalories.  As Tun Myat, the director of the UN's humanitarian programme
in Iraq, put it last November in New York: "The biggest killer of children
is not lack of food or medicine but of water and sanitation - clean water
and sanitation are absolutely necessary for the children of the country".
Humanitarian staff that I speak to in Iraq consistently stress the
complexity of public health.

While Myat doesn't mention it in his briefing, it seems to be the case that
the Iraqi government has largely abandoned the targeted nutrition programme
that began some years ago.  When infants contract diarrhoea, especially in
the summer, they need very rapid medical intervention to keep from dying.
The Iraqi government has largely failed to provide this, in part because it
seems to have removed control over the nutrition programme from grass-roots
level health agencies and placed it under the centralised control of an
institutute established in the 1980s to deal with obesity.

And, of course, being human means more than just surviving; I think that the
failure to recognise this is what angered the aid official to whom I
referred to in my previous e-mail.

> "the country's resurgence". If this rings true to you then please
> explain to me what it means. In the context of what sanctions
> have done to the country this phrase seems to me an obscenity.
> "the growing prosperity". If this is correct - if there IS
> growing prosperity - is it for the majority or the minority? This
> is not a trivial question.

I don't want to defend every phrase in the Washington Post article, both
because it's not my article and because I don't see this as productive.  The
facts seem to be: Iraq continues to suffer under sanctions, but some visible
improvements are occurring, and in part because some Iraqis are refusing to
be defeated by the sanctions.  These improvements seem to be most evident in
Baghdad, but even there they benefit some much more than they do others.


Colin Rowat

work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham |
Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | | (+44/0) 121 414 3754 |
(+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) |

personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) |
(707) 221 3672 (US fax) |

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