Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Malnutrition Rate of Iraqi Children Doubled After U.S. Invasion

Iraqi children try to balance on a box in a flooded street on the outskirts of Sadr City, Baghdad.

Speaking to the UN human rights body on Wednesday, Jean Ziegler, a hunger specialist, noted that malnutrition amongst Iraq's young almost doubled since the U.S. led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

The UN's Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food said that by last fall 7.7 per cent of children under the age of 5 in Iraq suffered from acute malnutrition.

Malnutrition, a disease which is exacerbated by the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation, is a major killer of children in poor countries. Children who survive are usually physically and mentally impaired for life, and are more vulnerable to disease.

The situation facing Iraqi youngsters is "a result of the war led by coalition forces," said Ziegler, an outspoken Swiss sociology professor and former lawmaker whose previous targets have included Swiss banks, China, Brazil and Israels treatment of Palestinians.

Overall, more than a quarter of Iraqi children don't get enough to eat, Ziegler told the 53-nation commission, which is halfway through its annual six-week session.

The U.S. delegation and other coalition countries declined to respond to his presentation, which compiled the findings of studies conducted by other specialists.

In reporting the 7.7 percent malnutrition rate for Iraqi youngsters, the Norwegian-based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science said last November that the figure was similar to the levels witnessed in some African countries.

During the 1970s and 1980s Iraq was generally regarded as having good nutrition, but health problems only emerged when the Security Council imposed sanctions after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Ziegler did not mention the role violence is playing in the nutrition problem, something often cited by aid groups.

Last year, Carol Bellamy, head of UNICEF, said the violence hampers the delivery of adequate supplies of food.

Ziegler also cited an October 2004 U.S. study that estimated as many as 100,000 more Iraqis, most of whom are women and children, have died since the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The number is higher than those who would have normally have died, based on the death rate before the war.

"Most died as a result of the violence, but many others died as a result of the increasingly difficult living conditions, reflected in increasing child mortality levels," he said.

The authors of the U.S. study in the British-based medical journal The Lancet, who the researchers for hailed from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, conceded their data were of "limited precision."

Ziegler also told the commission he was concerned about hunger in North Korea, Palestinian areas, Sudan's conflict-ravaged Darfur region, Zimbabwe, India, Myanmar, the Philippines and Romania.

Worldwide, he said, more than 17,000 children under 5 die daily from hunger-related diseases.

"The silent daily massacre by hunger is a form of murder," Ziegler said. "It must be battled and eliminated."