A nation sagging under the weight of sanctions: Thousands of infants are dying
by LARRY JOHNSON
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER FOREIGN DESK EDITOR
Tuesday, May 11, 1999
This is life - and death - in Iraq after eight years of sanctions imposed by the United Nations following the 1991 Gulf War.
At Al Mansour Pediatric Hospital in Baghdad, malnourished children, covered with flies, lie on stained mattresses. Mothers and fathers sit on the beds, methodically swatting at the flies. Medicine is in short supply. The hospital is dark; electrical power is shut off periodically each day to conserve resources. The usual antiseptic odor of medical facilities has been replaced with the stench of urine, feces and decay.
|The father of 2-year-old Nemya grips her death certificate while
talking to a doctor moments after she died from meningitis in a
quarantined room at the hospital. A 50-cent tube could have saved
the youngster's life, one doctor says. But the hospital has none.
Impossible to obtain under the sanctions, another doctor says.
- Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Moving from bed to bed, Dr. Tarig Al-Shujairi lists the illnesses afflicting the children: typhoid fever, pneumonia, leukemia, tuberculosis, cholera.
Even polio and measles are making a comeback, he says.
A nurse runs by carrying a small bottle of oxygen. Nemya, a 2-year-old girl with hair the color of sand, has meningitis and is unable to breathe because of the fluid clogging her bronchial tubes. Her father and mother are frozen at the side of her bed while the nurse covers Nemya's face with the small oxygen mask.
It is too late. Nemya's chest heaves, her body shakes, and she dies. Her mother pulls her scarf close about her face and cries silently. Her father looks at a visitor and touches his chest over his heart.
The sanctions, despite the hopes of many Western leaders, have had little apparent effect on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He remains firmly in control, and efforts to find and destroy his weapons are in limbo. But they have had a devastating effect on Iraq's 22 million people.
Reports from U.N. diplomats, church leaders and officials of humanitarian organizations point out how the economic and military sanctions have left many people scrambling for survival. Baghdad's unemployment rate is more than 50 percent; in the second-largest city, Basra, unemployment hovers around 75 percent.
Out-of-work engineers drive taxis, and doctors take second jobs to supplement a salary that, because of inflation, now averages only about $3 to $5 per month.
And each month thousands of infants are dying of malnutrition-related illnesses that many believe would not be a problem except for the sanctions restricting or bogging down the shipment of food and medicine.