While estimates vary, many independent authorities assert that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children under five have died since 1990, in part as a result of the sanctions and the effects of the Gulf War. An August 1999 Unicef report found that the under-five mortality rate in Iraq has more than doubled since the imposition of sanctions.
In 1999, the United Nations observed:
In addition to the scarcity of resources, malnutrition problems also seem to stem from the massive deterioration in basic infrastructure, in particular in the water-supply and waste disposal systems. The most vulnerable groups have been the hardest hit, especially children under five years of age who are being exposed to unhygienic conditions, particularly in urban centers. The World Food Program estimates that access to potable water is currently 50 percent of the 1990 level in urban areas and only 33 percent in rural areas.
The UN sanctions committee, based in New York, continues to deny Iraq billions of dollars worth of computer equipment, spare parts, medical equipment and medicines, books and periodicals, all necessary elements to sustaining human life and society. Agricultural and environmental studies show great devastation, in many cases indicating long-term and possibly irreversible damage.
Others have argued that, from a North American perspective, sanctions are more economically sustainable than military attacks, since sanctions cost the United States less. In fact, hundreds of millions of US tax dollars are spent each year to sustain economic sanctions. Expenses include monitoring Iraqi import-export practices, patrolling the "no-fly" zones, and maintaining an active military presence in the Gulf region.
Sanctions are an insidious form of warfare, and have claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
Myth 5: The Iraqi government is deliberately withholding and stockpiling food and medicine to exacerbate the human suffering for political sympathy and to draw attention to the need to lift sanctions.
The US State Department frequently alleges that Iraq appears to be warehousing and stockpiling medicines, with malicious intent. Yet United Nations which heavily monitors the warehousing of medicines contradicts this view. Tun Myat, the humanitarian coordinator and head of the UN’s "oil-for-food" program in Baghdad from 2000—2002, praised Iraqi distribution of essential goods. He told the New York Times, "I think the Iraqi food-distribution system is probably second to none that you’ll find anywhere in the world. It gets to everybody whom it’s supposed to get to in the country."
According to local UN administration and staff, the gaps in delivery that do exist are caused by logistical problems stemming from twelve years of sanctions and lingering Gulf War damage. Periodic UN reports on the humanitarian programs in Iraq list many technical issues that complicate providing medicine and other vital resources to a country of 22 million people. Obstacles to efficient distribution include the low wages of Iraqi warehouses workers, insufficient transport, and the poor condition of Iraqi warehouses in the provinces.
The United Nations conducts frequent inventories of the food and medicine stored in Iraq. Former humanitarian coordinator Hans von Sponeck (who resigned from the post in 2000 in protest against the sanctions) and his deputy, Farid Zarif, have repeatedly called for the "depoliticization" of distribution, arguing that stockpiling is the result of Iraq’s damaged infrastructure, rather than malice on the part of the Iraqi government.
In many cases, Iraq must purchase goods from foreign suppliers. Items come in pieces; for example, dental chairs arrive but compressors must be ordered from another company, or syringes arrive but needles take longer to be processed. Moreover, the UN sanctions committee takes longer to approve some orders than others, thus forcing Iraq to keep medicine in storage until the complements are approved.
Temperatures in Iraq during summer often reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Air-conditioned trucks are therefore essential for shipping perishable goods, including cancer medication, surgical gloves, and foodstuffs. Yet air-conditioned trucks are practically nonexistent in Iraq, since the sanctions committee has barred them under "dual use" considerations. While it is certainly true that air-conditioned trucks could be used for military purposes, they are also necessary to ship medication.
The infrastructure is so degraded throughout Iraq that medicine and even spare parts are "Band-Aids to a huge problem," according to von Sponeck. "You can give all the food and medicine you want," Says Tun Myat, "but living standards would not improve unless housing, electricity, clean water and sanitation, and other essential services were restored." Reconstructing Iraq’s essential infrastructure could cost as much as an estimated $50 to $100 billion.
After allocations are taken out of Iraq’s oil revenues to finance Gulf War reparations, UN administrative costs, and other mandated expenses, the amount of money from the oil-for-food program that trickles down to the average person in Iraq is completely insufficient. Prior to May 2002, "[T]he total value of all food, medicines, education, sanitation, agricultural and infrastructure supplies that have arrived in Iraq has amounted to $175 per person a year, or less than 49 cents a day," according to von Sponeck.
Iraq cannot afford to rebuild its infrastructure under the oil-for-food program or under the new provisions of so-called smart sanctions. Water sanitation facilities, electrical grids, communication lines, and educational resources will remain permanently degraded until the sanctions are lifted.
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