The U.N. Children's Fund warned Thursday of a humanitarian emergency in Iraq with the release of surveys showing that children under 5 in the center and south of the country were dying at more than twice the rate of a decade ago.
The UNICEF surveys were the first since 1991, the year after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the imposition of U.N. sanctions. They found that in the center and south of the country, where 85 percent of the 22-million people live, under-5 mortality increased from 56 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1984-1989 to 131 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1994-1998. A similar deterioration was recorded in infant mortality rates.
UNICEF director Carol Bellamy said that if the reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued into this decade, there would have been a half-million fewer deaths of children under 5 from 1991 to 1998.
In a survey conducted in the Kurdish north of the country, which is out of the government's control, under-5 mortality was found to have declined from 80 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1984-1989 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1994-1999, with a similar trend in infant mortality.
While all of Iraq is under sanctions, in Kurdish areas opposed to the Iraqi regime the United Nations plays a direct role in distributing supplies to the population under an oil-for-food deal. This arrangement allows Iraq to sell as much as $5.3-billion of oil every six months to buy food and medicines. In the center and south, distribution is performed by the Iraqi government and monitored by the United Nations.
British officials said the survey in the north showed that the primary cause of Iraqi suffering was not the sanctions but government policy, which does not give priority to vulnerable groups and distributes goods poorly.
But Anupama Singh, UNICEF representative in Baghdad, said the oil-for-food money going to the north includes a cash component that allows the United Nations to train local authorities and more effectively implement and monitor programs. In the center and south, under the Iraqi regime's control, no funds are allocated to ministries for fear they would be used for more sinister purposes.