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Sunday, 2 April, 2000, 04:49 GMT 05:49 UK
Iraq struggles under sanctions
Hospital in Baghdad
Iraq's medical system has deteriorated under sanctions
By Barbara Plett in Baghdad

In a dusty village south of Baghdad children cry as medical workers drop polio vaccinations into their mouths.

Though the disease has been eradicated in other countries in the region, Iraq's deteriorating healthcare system after 10 years of the UN ecnomic embargo has made this a high risk area.

That is why there is a programme to vaccinate all children below the age of five years in all parts of the country where the disease is occurring.

Basic needs

The programme exists thanks to humanitarian aid delivered under the Oil for Food Programme.

UN officials also say the programme has generally improved access to food and medicine. But the head of Unicef here, Anupama Singh, said it can only patch up the system, not fix it.

Von Sponeck
Mr von Sponeck said he had given up hope of helping Iraqis
"What has been possible with the resources available so far is to undertake the most immediate actions required, like this campaign, for instance.

"But the most sustainable, long-term improvements, or even expansion of services, because the population has grown - these have not been addressed to the degree that they need to be addressed."

Aid workers are slowly turning their attention from basic needs to repairing the neglected education system, crumbling infrastructure, and struggling oil industry.

But Iraq is having trouble getting spare parts. The United States has blocked many orders, saying they could be used to make weapons.

New co-ordinator

It also accused the UN's former humanitarian co-ordinator, Hans von Sponeck, of siding with Baghdad in a propaganda war about who's to blame for Iraq's misery.

Mr von Sponeck ultimately resigned in protest over the impact of sanctions on civilians.

His replacement, a veteran aid worker from Myanmar, Tun Myat, will no doubt be treading carefully in what has become a very sensitive position.

The spokesman for the humanitarian programme, George Somerwill, says Mr Von Sponeck always wished to separate humanitarian issues from political ones.

Sanctions cannot be lifted until UN weapons inspectors report that Iraq has fully disarmed.

But Baghdad says it already has, and refuses to accept a new team of arms monitors.

Divisions in the Security Council also slow down UN decisions on Iraq.

Some steps have been taken to ease the impact of sanctions, but most observers do not expect major changes in the situation any time soon.

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See also:

01 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iraq claims victory in UN oil deal
27 Mar 00 | Middle East
Sanctions 'hitting Iraqi youth'
13 Mar 00 | Middle East
Annan fears for Iraq's health
15 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iraq: Second UN official resigns
14 Feb 00 | Middle East
UN sanctions rebel resigns
14 Feb 00 | Middle East
'Lost generation' faces bleak future
08 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iraq sanctions 'a tragedy'
06 Nov 99 | Middle East
US attacks Iraq aid chief
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