World turns its back as Kurds die quietly: Starved of medicines and with donors losing interest, tragedy is again threatening Iraqi Kurdistan. Julie Flint reports from Erbil

IN ERBIL hospital, once the pride of northern Iraq's Kurdish region, 24-year-old Peyman Mustafa is dying. She would not have been a year ago. Admitted with an infection that can no longer be treated, she developed first jaundice and then kidney failure. 'I stay in the ward most of the night just looking at her,' her doctor says bleakly. 'I cannot leave her and I can do nothing for her. I have nothing to give her.'

Runak Kamal, 22, is already dead, 10 days after graduating top of her class at Erbil University. She was admitted with a minor infection; she needed drugs that are not available. Nine-year-old Ardalan Nasreddine, who shared her ward, is not expected to survive. His cancer would have a chance of being cured if the hospital had what it needs to treat him, but it does not. Nor does it have more than emergency stocks of anaesthetics, antiseptics and dressings. Cleaners are about to be laid off because the administration cannot find pounds 150 for their monthly salaries.

'The real suffering is starting now,' Dr Chalak Barzingi, of the 400-bed hospital, says. 'We expect cholera in a month's time and we have no intravenous fluids. This is not medicine in the 20th century.'

A year after the Kurds elected their own parliament to fill the gap left by Baghdad's administrative and economic

blockade of the region, donors are losing interest in Iraqi Kurdistan. The United Nations has received only dollars 244m (pounds 167m) of the dollars 420m it wanted for the year and has cut its expatriate staff by half. Several non-governmental organisations, including the French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, have been frightened off by a campaign of terror that has killed two aid workers.

'It's not a disaster, but it's a collapsing situation,' says Save the Children's Simon Mollison. 'I accept (Iraqi-controlled) southern Iraq was bound to be difficult, but this wasn't. A year ago we believed we were going where the arrows were pointing. There was hope.'

More than that, there was euphoria. The two main parties, Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democractic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, had triumphed in their first free elections and shared power equally. With the international community fully behind them, they were confident good government would be rewarded just as bad government was being punished.

That confidence has gone. 'We have been given firm guarantees that the military protection of the Kurdish people will continue and there will be no dealings with the dictatorship,' Mr Barzani said after visiting Washington and London. 'But I do not understand the West's attitude to economic support.

'Our internal situation is good and we are drawing up the laws we need to govern. But this cannot continue if the economic situation is not good and the backbone of the economy has been broken. The present state of affairs cannot go on. Either people will start dying - or there will be another mass exodus.'

Under a deceptively calm surface, the deterioration in the Kurdish region is striking. There is more food in the market than there was last year, but prices are prohibitive for most people - especially since Saddam's withdrawal of the 25 dinar note decimated the local economy. With inflation reducing his 300 dinar salary to barely pounds 10 a month, Dr Barzingi has been forced to sell his refrigerator to live. The poor who have nothing left to sell walk behind harvesters picking up stalks of wheat - a shocking sight in this fertile region.

'It's very hard to see how a farmer makes ends meet,' says Mr Mollison. 'Everything is stacked against him: he's probably got to go 100kms for a spare tyre. And he's the lucky one because he's got access to a piece of land and therefore a productive asset. For want of a little bit of help, those who aren't taking one step forwards are taking two steps back. Everything is decaying.'

An engineering consultant sent to northern Iraq last month has warned that its battered, overloaded electrical grid may not survive the winter. Breakdowns are causing power cuts and UN sanctions make spare parts impossible to obtain. Roads have not been repaired, bridges are still broken. Schools are open, but not equipped. Recently re-established herds are dwindling because of cuts and delays in vaccination programmes. 'Foot and mouth disease has been sweeping through the area in the last month,' says Mike Jordan, an agriculturalist. 'In some places 60 per cent of herds are infected - goats as well as cows.'

Allied officers serving with Operation Provide Comfort, the rump of John Major's 'safe havens' protectors, are increasingly worried that political instability born of economic hardship will undermine their efforts to protect the Kurds. 'There is no area that is not threatened by the Iraqi army,' says a senior Allied officer. 'They can do anything they want, anywhere along the line. So much depends on the direction of the assistance programme. The organisational structure of the United Nations is totally ineffective. If non-governmental organisations go away, the aid programme stops and northern Iraq goes down the toilet.'

The UN's much-criticised 'winterisation programme' of 1991-92 looks almost good today. Kerosene for winter was delivered in March this year. And with most of the harvest in, Unicef, the lead agency, is still discussing how to keep the crops in the area despite the higher prices offered by Baghdad. Development aid is conspicuous by its absence.

'Donors could certainly have doubled the money without it being a big deal,' says Mr Mollison. 'It's not just money; it's commitment. There has been virtually no UN programme here since April 1992. The UN programme has collapsed because donors did not put the money in.'

Mr Barzani argues that the UN could do more with its money if it was tougher with Baghdad, the filter for its entire Iraqi programme and a source of endless obstruction. 'We want the UN to deal with us directly,' he says. 'Baghdad has no authority in our region. It has no legal right here because it was never elected, and it has no moral right because it has destroyed our villages. The UN is dealing with us as a part of Iraq. If we are part of Iraq, give us our share of Iraq's frozen assets.'

The Kurdish parliament needs more than money. It needs skills. Mohammed Tewfik, Minister of Humanitarian Aid and Co-operation, graduated as a mechanical engineer in 1978 and carried arms until 1991. 'We know how to blow up bridges, to stop tanks, to destroy power stations,' Mr Barzani says. 'Now we have a role we are not familiar with. We need your help.'

But donors appear reluctant to work with the Kurdish government, apparently fearing that a strong administration would unsettle neighbouring states with Kurdish populations of their own. Thus one of the European Community's largest projects in northern Iraq - a power line in the Sulaymaniyah area - has been entrusted to a Kurdish NGO rather than the regional government. 'Local NGOs are getting all the resources and seem to be setting up a parallel administration,' says a critic. 'The government has a very difficult job, but it's learning. Rather than build half a power line, the EC would have done much better to give the government spare parts.'

Despite their frustration, and the difficulties of life, most Kurds are still behind their government. 'I would not work for 300 dinars for even two days,' says Dr Barzingi. 'I am working because I want this process to succeed. If it does not, the first victim will be the Iraqi people. The second will be this government we bought with our blood.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried