Iraq is helped and hurt by UN

PHILIPPE HEFFINCK was not in the best of moods. When I saw him last February, he said, I had made him out to be a heartless bureaucrat as I sat in his air- conditioned Unicef office with its comfortable chairs, enjoying his excellent coffee. I had suggested, he said, that he was a little divorced from the human tragedy going on outside.

So I guess it was generous of Mr Heffinck to see me again. The chairs were just as comfortable and the statistics of Unicef success poured from the documents he handed to me. But there was no coffee this time.

Let it be said at once, then: Mr Heffinck and his assistants do an extraordinary and valiant job of doing what almost every United Nations official does in Iraq - alleviating the suffering caused by the UN's own sanctions. You have only to look through his glossy-covered pamphlets to understand the worth of Unicef's work: Community Empowerment for Better Nutritional Status of Children, Rehabilitation of the Water Treatment Plants ... And you have only to study the small print to comprehend the wickedness of UN sanctions.

Here, for example - buried deep inside Unicef's own paper on the 1997 nutritional survey at Iraqi health centres - is the kind of startling admission which the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and her friends wilfully ignore: "Since 1990, the embargo on Iraq has resulted in a cumulative deterioration in the economy and of basic needs - food, medicine, water and sanitation, social and cultural.

"Escalating prices, lower purchasing power, reduced food production and a breakdown of health services and facilities ... has caused a continual worsening of living standards throughout the whole country..."

Note how President Saddam Hussein and his cronies get no mention here. And why should they? After all, they are untouched by our sanctions regime. Little food, water and sanitation, massive inflation - that is what the embargo is about. Could there be a more damning indictment of the UN's own sanctions in a UN publication?

So it is remarkable, when you come to think about it, that Mr Heffinck can keep his sanity, let alone his sense of perspective - for both may be sorely tested by the Iraqi ministry of health's latest request to Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO): to make a survey of infant and maternal mortality rates.

"The three of us have agreed it will be done and we are looking for a consultant," Mr Heffinck says. "We will be able to see the trend from 1991. But of course, the cause of death is a different issue."

So we will be told the speed at which Iraqi children and their mothers are dying - but not how. And the boys back at UN headquarterscan relax - at least until the WHO reveals the effects of depleted uranium shells on child mortality in a couple of years' time. But there is good news. Mr Heffinck can announce that a March 1998 survey suggests malnutrition is "stabilising" and that the oil-for-food programme (UN resolution 986) is preventing an already dire situation from getting worse.

Unicef, Mr Heffinck says, is encouraging the Iraqi government's community childcare units, which will be taught to weigh a malnourished infant and "if something goes wrong [sic], to refer the child immediately to the child centre which can refer the child to a nutrition centre".

Mr Heffinck says that the "community" was a component that was missing in previous health schemes and there are now 1,333 childcare centres in Iraq, which have screened 650,000 children. And of these - if you do not believe this, read Unicef's file of 2 September 1998 - one-quarter of a million (one-quarter of a million) were malnourished. Unicef has provided material and reporting systems for local school teachers.

The word "community" is one of those nouns that is acceptable to both the UN and the Iraqi authorities. And I suspect it is a substitute for the word "victims". Resolution 986 has a lot to answer for. As Mr Heffinck rightly says, 986 covers 85 per cent of the population, but only for supplies. It provides no funds for distribution, training, participation.

"Little donations don't make that much difference - it's more important to use the non- governmental organisations for what they're good at," Mr Heffinck said. "They can repair hospitals. Enfants du Monde are rehabilitating a centre for street children. CARE International [which distributed Independent readers' pounds 100,000 worth of medicines to Iraqi child cancer victims] are doing excellent work on water using their engineers to roam around the country to all 230 water treatment plants."

Unicef is printing enlarged dictionaries for the deaf and dumb, rewriting the highly restricted sign language in use before the 1991 war. It is supporting a project to restore a child rehabilitation centre in Baghdad.

During 1997, 20,000 severely malnourished children were admitted to nutritional rehabilitation centres. Admissions average 2,000 a month - in July this year, 2,230 were admitted, 501 of them in Baghdad. If there are lies, damned lies and statistics, it is these last statistics that must surely be damned.

We caused cancer in the Gulf,

Review, page 4

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss