Letter: What hope is there for the children of Iraq?

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The Independent Online
Sir: As the three Britons freed from jail in Iraq return to their homes, it seems timely to spare a thought for the Iraqi population, hostage to UN sanctions.

I have just returned from this formerly rich country, where according to 1990 World Health Organisation figures, 92 per cent of the country had access to free and sophisticated health care and 92 per cent to clean water. Malnutrition had almost been eradicated, as had cholera, typhoid and polio, while the under-two-kilo birth-rate was less than 4 per cent.

In July this year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN noted 'with deep concern, all the commonly recognised signs of pre-famine conditions . . . and that large numbers of Iraqis now have food intakes lower than those in the most disaster-stricken African countries'.

Leukaemias, cancers, cholera, typhoid, polio and congenital birth defects are soaring, but medicines are unobtainable. A young doctor lowered his eyes in shame as he told me of having to reuse the cannulas from dead babies.

There is a new medical diagnosis in Iraq. Babies are brought to hospital hugely bloated, but chronically malnourished. All in this condition die. They have been dubbed the 'sugar babies'. Milk being unobtainable (a half-kilo of milk powder is 450 dinars; the average salary is 200-300 dinars) mothers feed their babies on sugared water or tea, desperately hoping that will suffice. It does not.

Childhood is also dead in Iraq. There are no birthday parties any more - there is no food and no money for presents.

In the Unicef building in Baghdad, the organisation's stated aims are prominently displayed: 'Above all: Survival, Hope, Development, Respect, Dignity, Equality and Justice for women and children.' As Christmas, a time of renewal, approaches, it is surely time to extend these admirable aims to the 19.5 million people in Iraq. Otherwise the terrified, traumatised children of today will become the despots of tomorrow, and tragedy will haunt succeeding generations, east and west.

Yours faithfully,

FELICITY ARBUTHNOT

London, E9

10 December

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