Thursday, April 14, 2005

Let Them Eat Questionnaires...

A recent press release by United Nations rapporteur Jean Ziegler reveals an alarming increase in malnutrition rates among children in Iraq since the invasion. The report claims the number climbed from a 4% acute malnutrition rate just before the U.S. led invasion to a 7.7% acute malnutrition rate after the invasion. Let's be brutally honest here. That is an appalling rate similar to that of nations like Haiti and Pakistan. However, even more disturbing is the proclivity of many in the blogosphere and the corporate media to attribute this increase to the U.S. military. Jean Ziegler, a Swiss professor of sociology and member of the executive committee of Socialist International, certainly makes it clear that is exactly the reason for the plight of these children. Some othes, like Terry Jones in his article Let Them Eat Bombs, even go so far as to claim Iraqi children were better off under Saddam Hussein.

A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now.

Of course, that is absolutely true if, like Terry Jones and the Guardian UK, you agree those malnourished children would be better off dead! UNICEF's Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Surveys of 1999 became a mourning cloth for many opposed to the sanctions against Iraq. The survey reveals that U.N. Oil-For-Food funds provided to Saddam Hussein did nothing to abate the sky-rocketing infant and child mortality rates in Iraq.

Life Under Saddam Hussein

Is it possible that the funds made available from the Oil-For-Food program simply were not enough to reverse this humanitarian disaster? There does exist convincing evidence to the contrary. When Oil-For-Food funds were made available to the Kurdistan Regional Government, operating under the protection of U.S. and British warplanes, child and infant mortality rates decreased to levels below that of Saddam Hussein's utopian Iraq of 1989.

Life Without Saddam Hussein

I have a feeling those northern Kurds don't share Terry Jones' wistful reminiscing of the good old days under Saddam Hussein. In fact, considering that UNICEF At-A-Glance statistics show improved child and infant mortality rates of 125 and 102, respectively, in 2003, and the United Nations Statistics Division reports further improvement, listing Iraq with an Infant Mortality rate of 83 through January 2005; I would surmise that most Iraqis aren't pining for the gentle ministrations of the Butcher of Baghdad.

Of course, all of these mortality figures do nothing to refute the 7.7% acute malnutrition rate cited by Jean Ziegler, and I don't pretend to have the analytical skills to do so even if that were my intention. However, Ziegler's remarks have not gone undisputed.

The UK's Department for International Development says the Unicef and Iraqi statistics suggests a decline in child malnutrition from 17.3% in 2000 to 11.7% in 2004. - BBC

The problem here is that Ziegler has singled out acute malnutrition (low weight for height or wasting) from the other measures of malnutrition, which are underweight (low weight for age) and chronic malnutrition (low height for age or stunting). So, I decided to hunt down that report to figure out what happened to those other numbers. The source of that 7.7% number is reported to be a survey performed by Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies, but I was unable to find the actual report with all the malnutrition data. Again, I can't overstate the travesty of that malnutrition rate and want to re-emphasize that an average acute malnutrition rate of 7.7% means that some areas must have rates much, much higher.

One of the problems with these numbers from Saddam Hussein's paradise is that he had huge portions of the population segregated into sprawling slums containing millions of people, such as Sadr City, without access to food, healthcare, or even electricity. These days the people living in these slums are benefitting from a more democratic distribution to all these services, though certainly far from adequate. Contrast that to the treatment these slum-dwellers received under Terry Jones' bygone days of Saddam Hussein reported in the BBC:

Another mass grave has been discovered in Iraq at Salman Pak, just south of Baghdad, in the grounds of what used to be a sprawling military complex. Most Iraqis at the site are from Baghdad's Sadr City, a Shia slum formerly known as Saddam City. - BBC

I can't say whether the more than two million inhabitants of this slum alone were ever included in the U.N. surveys performed under Saddam Hussein's rule. I have found what appears to be a very comprehensive survey of 28,500 households performed by the World Food Program in the latter half of 2003.

Before the war started in March 2003, aid agencies were saying that 60 percent of the population was dependent on food aid. However, there was no real way of making an accurate assessment during Saddam Hussein's rule.

"This is the first comprehensive study of its kind in Iraq as the political environment before the war made it impossible to analyse the level of poverty and hunger in the country," Torben Due, Country Director for WFP's operations in Iraq, told IRIN. "For the first time, we are getting an accurate picture of people's access to food. As a result, we are much better able to plan assistance," he added.

"This survey is unique and one like this has not been done on this level in Iraq before. It provides a foundation for other surveys," Turner pointed out.

First Post-Saddam Survey

This study seems to refute the 7.7% rate of malnutrition with a 4.4% acute malnutrition (wasting) rate. However, a measure of 27.6% suffering from stunting is a few points higher than the 22% reported in the U.N. At-A-Glance chart of data gathered between 1995 and 2003.

I think the conclusion that could be gathered from all of this is that Iraq still has many problems to sort out. However, to say that things were better under Saddam Hussein is incredibly cynical and incredibly self-serving. The Kurdistan Regional Government found out that Oil-For-Food funds, minus Saddam Hussein and his cronies at the United Nations, can improve the situation. It would not surprise me if people all over Iraq found that proper funding, minus Saddam Hussein and the Oil-For-Food middlemen, also results in improvements. I not only think that Iraq is better of without Saddam Hussein, but also that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.

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