Using under-five mortality rates, Unicef report ranks Iraq 33rd worst in a global survey of 190 countries.
DUBAI/BAGHDAD - Children in Iraq are some of the most deprived in the Middle East, according to a report released by the United Nations children’s agency (Unicef) on Monday. Using under-five mortality rates as a critical indicator of the wellbeing of children, the report ranked the country 33rd worst in a global survey of 190 countries.
“In countries such as Djibouti, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, child mortality is closely tied to high levels of malnutrition, poor access to health services and mothers’ lack of education. The cost of war and conflict, in terms of lost lives, displacement, and setbacks to development, continues to be high, as is particularly evident in Iraq, oPt [the occupied Palestinian territories] and Sudan,” said Wolfgang Friedl, Communication Officer for Unicef Middle East and North Africa.
“Conflict, extreme poverty and low investment in social services - including health, education, water and sanitation - are some of the basic causes for child mortality in countries affected by chronic conflict and/or underdevelopment,” Friedl said.
Poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and disease have formed a “vicious circle” that is harming children, he said, adding that the most pressing needs of the less developed Arab countries were the availability and protection of water resources and water quality.
Entitled ‘The State of the World’s Children 2007’, the 160-page report emphasises the importance of empowering women and eliminating gender discrimination in order to improve the wellbeing of children.
In Iraq, women and children suffer far more than their male counterparts, according to NGOs and rights groups such as the Baghdad Centre for Human Rights Studies.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, in years since the US-led occupation of the country began in 2003, children have become more vulnerable to diseases as Iraq’s infrastructure has deteriorated, the economy has collapsed and supplies are limited.
“Thousands of children are displaced nowadays without medical support. Diarrhoea and dehydration have become common diseases among them and with a lack of medicine, what could be considered acute before is chronic today,” Ahmed Waleed, media officer at the Ministry of Health, said. “The numbers presented by UNICEF show the critical condition the health system is in today in Iraq.”
Iraqi boy Hudhar Zein, 11, is worried about his future. Since sectarian violence forced his family to flee their home in April 2006, he has lived in increasingly miserable conditions.
“Sometimes we need to divide the only available bread with six members of my family because we don’t have money to buy more. I had to leave my school because my father cannot afford notebooks and pencils. And changing house from month to month makes it harder to stay in the same school,” Zein said, adding that his father had recently lost his job.
“You cannot imagine what is like to see your six-year-old sister sick and at risk of dying because your family has no money to buy medicine for her. And [even if we had money] the hospital says it ran out of medicine a month ago,” Zein added.
Despite the grave situation for children in Iraq, oPt and Yemen, Unicef s Friedl said that other countries in the region have improved conditions remarkably. “Child mortality varies greatly between Arab countries due to political instability and economic development. In fact, no other region in the world records such a vast contrast with respect to child mortality,” he said.
Friedl added that the Middle East as a whole has shown an “impressive decline” in infant mortality - from an average of 81 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 56 in 2004. The region also reduced under-five mortality rates over the past decade by two thirds.