Iraq: The Human Toll
by Davi£d Cortright
www.thenaton.org, July 24, 2005
Living conditions for the people of Iraq,
already poor before the war, have deteriorated significantly since
the US invasion. This is confirmed in a new report by the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Iraqi Ministry of
Planning and Development Cooperation. Based on a survey of 21,000
households conducted in 2004, the study shows that the Iraqi people
are suffering widespread death and war-related injury, high rates
of infant and child mortality, chronic malnutrition and illness
among children, low rates of life expectancy and significant setbacks
with regard to the role of women in society.
Malnutrition among small children in
Iraq is widespread. Nearly one-quarter of Iraqi children now suffer
chronic malnutrition, and 8 percent suffer acute malnutrition.
Illness levels among Iraqi children are also high, which is partly
the result of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. According
to the report, "compared to other countries in the region
and to the earlier data from Iraq...the supply of safe and stable
water...has deteriorated." There has also been "a steep
deterioration in the sanitary situation." Forty percent of
urban households report sewage in the streets of their neighborhoods.
The UNDP study found that infant and
child mortality rates remain high, although there is much uncertainty
about the exact numbers. The evidence "indicates a progressive
worsening of the situation for children." High infant mortality
rates in Iraq contrast with declining infant mortality rates in
neighboring countries. In most of the world, including the surrounding
countries, mortality rates for children have steadily fallen over
the decades. In Iraq, however, child mortality rates have climbed.
This translates into thousands of "excess" infant deaths
every year. These are the quiet, unseen victims of the continuing
tragedy in Iraq.
The new report sheds light on the total number of Iraqi deaths
directly attributable to the war. As of mid-2004, according to
the survey, the war had caused approximately 24,000 Iraqi deaths.
The death toll in Iraq has continued to climb, so these numbers
are larger now than when the survey was conducted. At the time
of the UNDP survey, the Iraqi Body Count website estimated total
deaths at 14,000-16,000. In May of this year the Body Count website
estimate stood at 21,000-24,000. This would suggest that the comparable
figure for war-related deaths using the UNDP methodology is more
than 30,000. Many of the victims in the current war are women
and children. The number of children injured since the US invasion
is higher than the number of military-age men. The report said
that in the ongoing war, it is members of "the civilian population
that are most affected."
There is striking evidence of the insecurity
of daily life in Iraq. Gunshots and weapons fire are a common
occurrence. When asked about the frequency of weapon shots in
their neighborhood, 37 percent of respondents said "every
day," and 23 percent said "several times a week. Public
insecurity has especially serious consequences for women. The
survey found that nearly half of Iraqi women "think that
the security in their area has worsened compared to one year ago."
This has prompted an increasing number of women to stay at home,
thus reinforcing a trend over the last decade of declining levels
of education and literacy among women. According to the report,
"the security situation is a major obstacle to individual
freedom in women's everyday life."
Years of war and sanctions have devastated
Iraqi society and caused widespread malnutrition, illness and
premature death. The resulting public health crisis has lowered
life expectancy for the entire population. According to the UNDP
report, "the probability of dying before the age of 40 for
Iraqi children born between 2000 and 2005 is estimated at 18 percent...approximately
three times the level in neighboring Jordan and Syria."
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is further
evidence of the abysmal failure of US policy. The destruction
and turmoil sparked by the invasion have led not only to widespread
violence and incipient civil war but to widespread civilian suffering,
especially among the most vulnerable. A war justified partly on
humanitarian grounds has increased humanitarian hardships. During
the 1990s a worldwide humanitarian outcry rose in response to
stories of Iraqi babies dying because of sanctions. It is time
for a new public outcry, to demand a change in US policy and urgently
needed humanitarian relief for the Iraqi people.
David Cortright is co-author, with
George A. Lopez, of The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies
in the 1990s (Lynne Rienner). He
is completing a new book, Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence in
Theory and Practice. Cortright is president of the Fourth
Freedom Forum and a founder of the Win Without War coalition.
His first book, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the
Vietnam War, is being reissued this fall by Haymarket Books.
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