March 19, 2003: The Situation of Iraq's
Despite Efforts to Strengthen Them, UNICEF Says the
Outlook Is Difficult
AMMAN / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 19 March 2003 - UNICEF today
issued a stark warning that the most vulnerable of Iraq's
children may not have the strength to survive the impact
A day after UN international staff left Iraq for their
own safety, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy catalogued
what her agency had done -and what it had run out of time
to do - to improve the survival chances of Iraqi children.
"We delivered therapeutic food for more than 400,000
malnourished children," Bellamy said. "But there
are more than 1 million malnourished children in Iraq.
We immunized virtually every child under age five against
measles. But we did not have time to reach the 6-to-12-year-olds
who missed measles immunization when they were younger.
We did a lot, but we had hoped to do more."
Bellamy said there was no way of knowing how many children
might perish during war or its aftermath. She said that
would depend on how long a war lasts and how it affects
civilian infrastructure. But she said the days and weeks
ahead would be difficult for children.
"Conflict could very well have disastrous consequences
for Iraqi children," Bellamy said. "Malnourished
children, children who have not been immunized, children
who are displaced from their homes - all these children
are at very high risk." She noted that children make
up half the population of the country.
"Much has been done to boost the resilience of the
most vulnerable children. But still the questions remains,
will they be strong enough to survive?"
With one-quarter of children under the age of five chronically
malnourished, and some 60 per cent of the population dependent
on government food rations, UNICEF has been supporting
major efforts to bolster children's health and well-being.
In recent weeks, 1000 metric tonnes of high-protein biscuits
and therapeutic milk has been distributed across the country
to hundreds of thousands of malnourished children. Four
million children were vaccinated against polio in February,
and half a million children under five were immunised
UNICEF also worked with the Government to overhaul back-up
generators at water and sewage treatment plants to ensure
that safe water will continue to flow even if primary
power is knocked out. About a third of the water supply
network in Baghdad has been backed up in this way.
UNICEF also said it had positioned thousands of tonnes
of emergency supplies in Iraq and neighboring countries
to help mount a rapid response. The items include essential
medicines, water purification tablets, therapeutic milk,
and other life-saving supplies.
Despite all this, Bellamy warned that Iraqi children
will remain highly vulnerable during a war and its immediate
aftermath. "Children will die in this war. That's
a fact. The question is how many children we can protect.
That has got to be a priority for all of us now."
Following the withdrawal of UN internationals from Iraq
on Tuesday, UNICEF's work in the country is now in the
capable hands of its committed and experienced national
staff. UNICEF has about 160 national staff members in
Arriving in Jordan from Baghdad, the UNICEF Representative
for Iraq, Carel De Rooy, spelled out the dangers ahead.
"The children of Iraq are facing many hazards. We
know that they remain extremely vulnerable because of
widespread and chronic malnutrition, bad water and disease.
Conflict could cause a major deterioration in their already-poor
living conditions, with devastating results."
De Rooy also emphasized the long-term impact that conflict
has on children's psycho-social health and on their education.
"We know from long experience how damaging war is
for children's emotional well-being, their sense of confidence
and trust. This trauma is amplified when children are
forced from school. So we're very concerned about these
longer-term issues, as well as their immediate safety."
For now, De Rooy will coordinate UNICEF relief operations
from the UNICEF office in Amman. He said the major things
UNICEF will be watching for are the stability of the power
grid and water supply system, availability of food in
all parts of the country, and potential outbreaks of disease.
"Right now the best we can do is keep a close eye,"
De Rooy said. "And be ready to respond."
* * *
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 www.unicef.org
For further information please contact us:Geoffrey
Keele, UNICEF Iraq: firstname.lastname@example.org (+962-6)551-4263
x316, (cell +962-79)692-6191 ** Anis
Salem, UNICEF Amman: email@example.com (+962-6) 553-9977
UNICEF Geneva: firstname.lastname@example.org, ((+41-79) 909-5509**
UNICEF New York, email@example.com (+1-212) 326-7261
For interviews in the region, write or
call directly to the UNICEF NewsDesk in Amman: