Child malnutrition doubled in Iraq since US invasion

by JONATHAN FOWLER

Child malnutrition doubled in Iraq since US invasionĀ 

GENEVA -- Malnutrition among the youngest Iraqis has almost doubled
since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a hunger specialist
told the U.N. human rights body Wednesday in a summary of previously
reported studies on health in Iraq.

By last fall, 7.7 percent of Iraqi children under 5 suffered acute
malnutrition, compared to 4 percent after Saddam's ouster in April 2003,
said Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special expert on
the right to food.

Malnutrition, which is exacerbated by a 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 Israeli 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 in
November that the figure was similar to the levels in some African
countries.

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

The United Nations later began an oil-for-food program, which allowed
Iraq to sell oil to buy food and medicine. That was credited with nearly
doubling the Iraqi population's annual food intake and halving
malnutrition among children.

Ziegler did not mention the role of Iraq's insurgency in the nutrition
problem, something often cited by aid groups.

Late 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 - many of them women and children - had died since
the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq than would 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 report in the British-based medical journal The
Lancet - researchers 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."