Why are the kids dying?

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By Paul Eedle

Premature baby in 'Vickers Medical Oxygenaire Incubator' made in England. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Iraqis tore incubators out of a Kuwaiti hospital and carted them to Baghdad. Is  this one? I couldn’t get a straight answer.

Who's delaying medicines for Iraq?

Whose fault is it that Iraqi children are dying of hunger and disease? Medicine and essential foodstuffs are not included in the UN sanctions which have banned almost all imports and exports by Iraq for the last eight years. So why aren't enough supplies getting through?

There's so much propaganda and political manoeuvering by all sides about this that the truth is buried very deep. Here's what I've been able to find out so far:

1. It's true Iraqi children are dying who could be saved.

In Baghdad's children's hospital, I saw one girls with lukaemia who's recovering because her parents could afford 40,000 dinars for the best chemotherapy drugs, and another who's dying because all the hospital can give her for free is a cheaper, less effective substitute. 40,000 dinars is only US$30, but as much as a doctor earns in 10 months.

In the emergency ward, there are children sick with hunger who don't need any drugs at all. They just need food, and their families can't afford it. Government rations cover only about half the food a family needs and don't include any meat at all. People who can't earn enough to buy extra food are simply starving. The UN estimates a million Iraqi children don't have enough to eat.

IN DETAIL:

A day inside a Baghdad hospital. Cutting through propaganda.

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Father holding oxygen mask over child struggling to breathe because of pneumonia, one of the commonest complications of measles.

2. The UN's 'oil-for-food' programme has helped, but not enough.

The sanctions which the UN imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 don't ban imports of medicines or essential foodstuffs. But they stopped Iraq exporting oil and froze Iraqi bank accounts abroad, so Iraq had no hard currency to pay for imports.

The oil-for-food programme approved in April 1995 allowed Iraq to export $2 billion worth of oil every six months, of which $1.3 billion could be spent on food and medicine, $600,000 would be put into a compensation fund to pay for claims against Iraq for war damages, and $80,000 would go towards UN expenses. But the UN estimates that Iraq needs to spend $2.1 billion on food and medicine every six months just to stop conditions getting worse.

 

IN DETAIL:

Oil for food programmes - what the Iraqi family gets

Baby in a brand new incubator after a difficult Caesarian brith. The Ministry of Health had the bright idea of askign foreign companies to provide free samples of incubators ‘for evaulation’. They’re all in full time use.

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3. The US and Britain have delayed and blocked some oil-for-food supplies.

Every contract made under the oil for food programme has to be approved by a Sanctions Committee with representatives of all 15 members of the UN Security Council. Phase I of the programme was supposed to run from December 1996 to June 1997 but UN figures show that the Committee is still blocking or delaying approval of 49 out of 879 contracts submitted to it. The classic case was a consignment of ambulances held up for months because they might have a 'dual use' as military vehicles.

I can't work out yet whether the delays are caused by bureaucracy or conspiracy. The Iraqis say it's a conspiracy, that the US and Britain have used their influence to delay supplies on purpose. But they would say that, wouldn't they.

I was more taken aback to hear a Western diplomat passionately taking the same line. He'd be fired if I told you who he was, which makes it harder for you to assess what he's saying than me. He said: "The Iraqis play it up a little too much sometimes but it is a fact. If anyone is wrong, then it is two countries who have shamelessly blocked contracts. It has been disgusting to watch."

A third-world diplomat was more inclined to blame bureaucracy and a desire by big countries to make sure supply contracts went to their companies. "I would blame it on the mindset of the bureaucracy rather than on politics," he said.

Either way, there's no doubt that the biggest delays have been, firstly, in obtaining approvals of contracts from the Sanctions Committee and, secondly, in shipping supplies to Iraq. UN figures show that on average, contracts under Phase 1 of the oil-for-food programme took 125 days to receive approval from the Sanctions Committee and to be shipped to Iraq. Actual distribution once the goods arrived in Iraq took on average just 7 days.

I have to keep digging here. It's bad enough that Iraqi children are dying because the oil-for-food programme has been running behind schedule. If the United States and Britain have deliberately been delaying and disrupting the programme to try to undermine Saddam Hussein, it's downright wrong.

IN DETAIL:

The dates of the UN’s longest sanctions regime

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 Sanctions
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