Sanctions are killing the children of Iraq
By Faisal Kutty – In the tussle between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the equally obstinate Western powers, the desperate plight of the Iraqis caught in the middle appears to be overlooked.
Unfortunately, their plight has been overshadowed by the media’s focus on Saddam’s theatrics and the resulting Western response.
The average Iraqi not only has to deal with Saddam’s repressive regime but also the punishing food and medical shortages brought about by the sanctions. The chaos has contributed to the growth of the black market where prices are so exorbitant that more and more are forced to turn to government food rations which only provide a fraction of the necessary caloric and nutritional requirements – leading to malnutrition and other related diseases.
UNICEF has reported that “32 per cent of the children under 5, some 960,000 children, are chronically malnourished – a rise of 72 per cent since 1991.”
In most parts of the country, water and sanitation systems are not functioning at full capacity, resulting in outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, gastroenteritis, malaria, hepatitis and meningitis. The situation is so critical that UNICEF officials claimed years ago that there was a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.
According to the United Nations, more than 1.2 million people, including 750,000 children below the age of 5, had died as of June, 1997, due to shortages of food and medicine.
Deplorably, the sanctions appear to be having an inordinate impact on the most vulnerable – the children. More than 4,500 under the age of 5 die each month, as opposed to 700 before the war. The mortality rate among those above 5 is now 6,500 per month, compared with 1,800 per month. Even if we do not accept these Iraqi figures at face value, are any innocent lives disposable?
The Iraqi government directs the accusatory finger at the U.N. and the West, the U.S. in particular, for this reprehensible situation. The West, in turn, blames Saddam’s regime.
Every few weeks for the past seven years, the two sides have quarrelled over these issues in New York while millions continue their miserable existence. Again, on April 26, the U.N. decided not to lift the sanctions. The world cannot sit by as Iraqis continue to suffer while Saddam and his inner circle feel no pain. The West’s obsession with removing Saddam has blinded us to the suffering of innocent civilians. A number of countries have indicated their willingness to cease the ostracism and have extended significant humanitarian assistance.
Canada has not made any serious objections to the plight of Iraqis. Canada’s independence in its foreign policy direction with Cuba is commendable. Is it not about time we also lived up to our humanitarian reputation and called for at least a partial lifting of the sanctions so that Iraqis can begin to live again?
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and writer.
Note: First Published in The Toronto Star, May 19, 1998
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