Sanctions Prolong Needless Suffering in Iraq
IRAQIS know that the Gulf war is still being waged - through continuing United Nations sanctions. The coalition partners claimed the war was not against the Iraqi people. Yet the United States and its allies chose to prosecute the war in a manner that destroyed the life-support systems of an urbanized and technically advanced society. The bombing of command-and-control centers destroyed electricity, communication, and transportation, and in the process severely crippled the water, food, and health systems of the entire country. The result is disaster. Sanctions and frozen assets are directly respons i
ble for needless deaths.
Baghdad itself is deceptively normal to Western eyes. The shops are full of consumer goods. Most of the capital has electricity for some hours of the day. On the streets, there is some traffic. The garbage is collected in parts of the city. Children are back in school. But reality belies the appearance of normalcy. The shops, full of non-essential consumer goods, do not have electricity. Annual inflation is now estimated at 1,300 to 1,400 percent.
Electricity is rationed, with priority given to hospitals and critical emergency services. Government offices, hotels, and private homes receive electricity for an allotted number of hours each day. But there is none available for sewage treatment and other sanitation. Without power, sewage is dumped into the rivers largely untreated. More than 1 million students do not have desks to sit at and have exams for which they cannot prepare without electricity at night. Under continuing sanctions, much econo m
ic activity cannot be restored. More than 90 percent of the factories are closed. Power and spare parts are unavailable. Iraq is a nation of people on forced leave without pay.
Before Aug. 2, Iraq imported 70 percent of its food. Under the sanctions, stocks of essential food staples are either depleted or at critically low levels. Warehouses storing feed for livestock were destroyed in the bombing. Poultry production, dependent on imported feed and electric power, has been decimated. Fruit trees are withering because of the lack of power-generated irrigation facilities. What does exist in the markets is priced far beyond the reach of most Iraqis.
For six months following the imposition of sanctions in August, no food imports were allowed into Iraq at all. Since that time until the week of May 20, only the equivalent of a single day's food requirement for the Iraqi population, or 10,000 metric tons, had been imported. The continuing sanctions are rapidly leading to starvation.
Medically, the situation is no better. Health conditions throughout Iraq are precarious. Before the war, more than half a billion dollars was spent annually importing necessary medicine and medical equipment. The government, for lack of vaccines, was forced to cease its child immunization program one month after the imposition of sanctions. Antibiotics, anesthetics, insulin, and anti-dehydration tablets are now critically short.
The Ministry of Health, basing its figures on a recent report by a Harvard study group, estimates that at least 150,000 children will die from war-related causes. Major epidemics of cholera and typhoid are likely to become the worst effect of the war.
The lifting of sanctions on humanitarian assistance, which has already occurred, is necessary but insufficient. The little that does work in Iraq today works only because, out of necessity, industrial and agricultural assets are being cannibalized; this will ultimately result in much greater suffering. A food system and a health-care system, not to mention employment-generating productive capacity, require supporting materials, inputs, spare parts, and a working transport system.
Iraq has the capability to finance much of its own relief and reconstruction needs - if the country is allowed to import and export. If all nonmilitary sanctions are lifted, certainly the UN and the international community have the capacity to monitor the use of critical imports. Iraq has indicated it would accept such supervision.
If sanctions are not lifted, the toll on the Iraqi population will be terribly high. More than 50 percent of the population is under 16, and an additional 10 percent are elderly. Even if the sanctions were lifted tomorrow, it is highly unlikely that major epidemics could be avoided this summer. But it is essential that further tragedy be averted by lifting non-military sanctions now.