Iraq: Huge rise in poverty, disease, & malnutrition following the Bush Jnr-led invasion Print E-mail
Monday 30 July 2007

PRESS RELEASE

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Nearly a third of Iraqis need immediate emergency help as conflict masks humanitarian crisis


The violence in Iraq is overshadowing a humanitarian crisis, with eight million Iraqis - nearly one in three - in need of emergency aid, says a report released today by international agency Oxfam and NCCI, a network of aid organisations working in Iraq .

The agencies' report "Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq" says although the appalling security situation is the biggest problem facing most ordinary Iraqis, the government of Iraq and other influential governments should do more to meet basic needs for water, sanitation, food and shelter.

According to the report:
  • · Four million Iraqis - 15% - regularly cannot buy enough to eat.
  • · 70% are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50% in 2003.
  • · 28% of children are malnourished, compared to 19% before the 2003 invasion.
  • · 92% of Iraqi children suffer learning problems, mostly due to the climate of fear.
  • · More than two million people - mostly women and children - have been displaced inside Iraq .
  • · A further two million Iraqis have become refugees, mainly in Syria and Jordan .

Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, said: "The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition amongst children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty.

"Despite the terrible violence the Iraqi government, the UN and the international community could do more to meet people's needs. The Iraqi government must commit to helping Iraq 's poorest citizens, including the internally displaced, by extending food parcel distribution and cash payments to the vulnerable. Western donors must work through Iraqi and international aid organisations and develop more flexible systems to ensure these organisations operate effectively and efficiently.

"The fighting and weak Iraqi institutions mean there are severe limits on what humanitarian work can be carried out. Nevertheless more can and should be done to help the Iraqi people."

While there is an urgent need for greater humanitarian assistance, Oxfam and NCCI believe that ending the conflict must be the top priority for everyone involved in Iraq . The Iraqi government and multi-national forces must also ensure their troops respect their moral and legal obligations not to harm civilians and their property.

The Iraqi government should immediately extend its food parcel distribution programme, increase emergency cash payments and support local aid organisations. The government should also take a more decentralised approach and allow local authorities to deliver aid. Foreign governments, including the USA and UK , should support Iraqi ministries in implementing these policies.

Oxfam had staff working inside Iraq but withdrew them due to chronic security problems. It now supports domestic and international aid agencies which are able to operate in Iraq . Although violence and insecurity restrict aid workers from helping Iraqis in need, an Oxfam survey in April 2007 found that over 80% of aid agencies working in Iraq could do more humanitarian work if they had more money.

Many humanitarian organisations will not accept money from governments that have troops in Iraq , as this could jeopardise their own security and independence. Therefore the report urges international donors that have not sent troops to Iraq to provide increased emergency funding for humanitarian action.
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 London ~~ Tuesday July 31 2007

Children hardest hit by humanitarian crisis in Iraq

  • · One in three people in need of emergency aid
  • · Basic services collapse as professionals flee country

Jonathan Steele

A mother and child sit in a tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. Photograph: Alaa al-Marjani/AP
 
The number of Iraqi children who are born underweight or suffer from malnutrition has increased sharply since the US-led invasion, according to a report by Oxfam and a network of about 80 aid agencies.

The report describes a nationwide catastrophe, with around 8 million Iraqis - almost a third of the population - in need of emergency aid. Many families have dropped out of the food rationing system because they have been displaced by fighting and sectarian conflict. Others suffer from the collapse in basic services caused by the exodus of doctors and hospital staff.

Although the security crisis forced Oxfam and other agencies to withdraw their foreign staff from Iraq to Jordan within a year of the invasion, many Iraqi non-governmental organisations still work in the country and receive supplies from abroad.

"The fighting and weak institutions mean there are severe limits on what humanitarian work can be carried out," said Jeremy Hobbs, the director of Oxfam International, yesterday as the report, Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq, was published.

But, the report says, more could and should be done to help the Iraqi people. The Iraqi government, in particular, could do more. It should double cash payments for the 1 million families headed by widows from the current $100 (about £49) a month. Nine of every 10 conflict-related deaths since 2003 have been of men, and earlier wars and repression also left many families without a male breadwinner.

At least 4 million Iraqis depend on food assistance, but a third of those who have had to flee their homes in the last year cannot get subsidised rations because they are not registered in a new home. The report urges the government to give the homeless temporary identity cards to allow them to get food.

It calls on western donor governments, which have shifted money out of humanitarian assistance towards reconstruction, to reverse that trend. Most development projects have been forced to slow down or stop anyway, whereas aid money can be spent effectively - and the need is dire.

Forty-three percent of Iraqis are in "absolute poverty", partly because of a 50% unemployment rate. Basic services in 2003 were poor after a decade of sanctions and under-investment by the Saddam Hussein regime. But they have worsened since. The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies, for example, has risen from 50% in 2003 to 70% now.

Eighty percent lack effective sanitation, and diarrhoeal diseases have increased. Most homes in Baghdad and other cities have only two hours of electricity a day.

Children are suffering the most, with 92% showing learning difficulty because of the pervasive climate of fear. More than 800,000 have dropped out of school, because they now live in camps for the displaced or because schools have had to be taken over to shelter the homeless.

Around 40% of Iraq's teachers, water engineers, medical staff and other professionals have left the country since 2003.

The Oxfam report comes as Unicef and the UN agency for refugees jointly appealed for $129m to help to get tens of thousands of uprooted Iraqi children back to school. Saying a generation of Iraqis could grow up uneducated and alienated, the agencies presented a plan to support Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon in providing schooling for 155,000 refugees. Altogether, more than 2 million Iraqis have fled to nearby countries. About 500,000 of them are of school age and most currently have limited or no access to education. 

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  London ~~ Monday July 30 2007

Ravaged by war ... and poverty

Iraq is turning into a humanitarian disaster, a new report shows.

By Jonathan Steele

Whatever the two GBs have been saying to each other at Camp David about Iraq today and yesterday, one surge is already having dramatic results. The war has produced a huge rise in poverty, disease, and malnutrition, in addition to the death and maiming which capture most of the headlines.

Some 43% of Iraqis live in absolute poverty. A third of the populaton depends on emergency aid, but over 30% of the people who have been displaced by fighting or sectarian murder have lost access to the subsidised food rations on which they used to rely.

The figures are contained in a new report by Oxfam and a network of aid agencies, though they are culled mainly from United Nations agencies, the International Commitee of the Red Cross, and other high-level sources.

One response is to throw up one's hands. Appalling as it all is, what can be done, since insecurity makes it impossible to deliver help anyway? Not true, says Oxfam. First of all, the Iraqi government can do much better. It can increase the size of the welfare payments it already makes to widows with children and other poverty-stricken households In other words, the system is in place. Just pump more money into it.

The same goes for the food ration system, a long-established network of local warehouses which was set up under Saddam Hussein. Everyone is registered and knows where to go. The problem is that if you are displaced you drop out of the benefits.

Oxfam says the Iraqi government ought to give displaced people new food-rationing identity cards which would allow them to get help in the camps where they are rather than in their home areas which have become too dangerous to stay in.

The United States and Britain as the main war-fighting governments should also step up their humanitarian aid. The big infrastructure projects which were the hallmark of the invasion's first year have either been completed (a few) or abandoned (mainly) because of corruption, insecurity, or sabotage.

It would be better now to think small and get personal. Giving families cash is not as glamorous a form of aid as opening a new power station or water plant. It also does not look so good for two governments which still try to portray their intervention in Iraq as a mission which has enhanced the quality of Iraqi life. But this Oxfam report shows that the reality does not bear that out. Iraqi families need help directly, and they need it now.