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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 04:27 GMT 05:27 UK

World: Middle East

Iraqi child death rates soar

Hospitals say they are short of even the most basic medicines

Iraqi children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago, a report by the United Nations' children's fund says.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen: "Sanctions have left Iraq crumbling and isolated"
The United States and the United Kingdom say the Iraqi Government is to blame for poverty and child deaths because it undermines the UN-backed oil-for-food programme.

However, Unicef says the international sanctions imposed on Iraq at the end of the Gulf war have also contributed.

Its report, compiled with the co-operation of Iraq, is the first survey of child and maternal mortality since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

[ image:  ]
In what it describes as an "ongoing humanitarian emergency", it shows a dramatic rise in child mortality rates in central and southern Iraq - areas controlled by Baghdad.

Unicef estimates that over the last 10 years at least 500,000 child deaths could have been prevented.

However, the report says that in the northern Kurdish areas, where the UN runs a relief operation outside Baghdad's control, child fatalities have decreased by more than a fifth.

Baghdad blamed

Both the UK and the US have highlighted the difference.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said both areas were subject to the same sanctions and both were covered by the oil-for-food programme.

He said the clearest conclusion was that the programme was successful where it was allowed to work freely.

"The bottom line is that if Saddam Hussein would not continue to hoard medicines and capabilities to assist the children of Iraq, they wouldn't have this problem," he said.

UK Foreign Office Minister Geoff Hoon insisted that sanctions were not targeted against children.

Unicef says Baghdad's delay in distributing aid supplies under the food-for-oil deal has contributed to the problems.

Doctors want sanctions to end

Unicef spokeswoman Anita Tiessen: "Half a million children who are now dead would be alive"
But the report does provides ammunition for those arguing that sanctions be lifted.

It calls for more money for humanitarian aid, and says the UN Sanctions Committee, as well as the Iraqis, should try harder to bring in supplies which children need for survival.

Unicef's executive director, Carol Bellamy, says the international community is partly to blame for the slowness in the distribution of supplies.

[ image:  ]
"There also has to be, really, a commitment to try and rebuild some of the basic services - health and education," she says.

Unicef says the sanctions may have been intended by the international community to promote peace and security, but they should not harm children.

Iraqi doctors have warned that many more will die of preventable diseases unless sanctions are lifted.

To make matters worse, the social and physical infrastructure of Iraq is crumbling.

Stunted growth

[ image: Thousands of children are dying of preventable diseases]
Thousands of children are dying of preventable diseases
The education system has been run down and figures show that children of educated mothers have a better chance of survival.

Sewers and water mains are not being maintained, which means that some children are falling victim to water-borne diseases that were virtually unheard of 10 years ago.

The report also says that Iraqis are not eating enough and estimates that 20% of Iraqi children under five suffer stunted growth caused by malnutrition.

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