Iraq survey finds child health sliding
UNICEF Finds That Acute Malnutrition Has Doubled in
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 years 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 response.
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 diarrhoea, 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. Its 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 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
We know the risks that Iraqs 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.
For further information please contact us:.
UNICEF Iraq (Amman), Mob.: (00962-79 692 6191)
UNICEF Newsdesk, (Amman), Mob.: (00962-79 504 2058)
Anis Salem, UNICEF
- Regional Office, Jordan, Mob.: (00962-79 557 9991)
UNICEF Media, Geneva: (4122) 909-5517
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