Global Policy Forum

Malnutrition among


By Fredrik Dahl

May 15, 2006

Malnutrition among Iraqi children has reached alarming levels, according to a U.N.-backed government survey showing people are struggling to cope three years after U.S.-forces overthrew Saddam Hussein. Nine percent -- almost one in 10 -- of children aged between six months and five years, suffered acute malnourishment, said the report on food security and vulnerability in Iraq.

"Children are...major victims of food insecurity," it said, describing the situation as "alarming." A total of four million Iraqis, roughly 15 percent of the population, were in dire need of humanitarian aid including food, up from 11 percent in a 2003 report, the survey of more than 20,000 Iraqi households found.

Saddam's 35-year rule was marked by ruinous wars -- first against Iran in 1980-88 and then against U.S.-led forces in 1991 and again in 2003 -- as well as crippling economic sanctions in the 1990s. The aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion has seen widespread violence, with militant and sectarian attacks and killings preventing a return to normal life for many Iraqis and hindering humanitarian aid efforts. "Decades of conflict and economic sanctions have had serious effects on Iraqis," the report said. "Their consequences have been rising unemployment, illiteracy and, for some families, the loss of wage earners."

The survey was conducted by the ministries of planning and health supported by the U.N. World Food Program and the U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF. David Singh, a spokesman for UNICEF's Iraq Support Center in neighboring Jordan, said the number of acutely malnourished children had more than doubled, to 9 percent in 2005 from 4 percent in 2002, the last year of Saddam's rule.

Many children in homes lacking sufficient food suffered from chronic malnutrition, the U.N. agency added. "This can irreversibly hamper the young child's optimal mental/cognitive development, not just their physical development," Roger Wright, UNICEF's special representative for Iraq, said in its statement. Singh told Reuters: "Until there is a period of relative stability in Iraq we are going to continue to face these kinds of problems."

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