Children are the real victims


  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 25 Mar 2003

By P.K. Katharason and Shahanaaz Habib

AMMAN: Daily at media briefings here, international relief agencies are expressing growing concern for the welfare of Iraqi children caught in the current war. 

“You can see the fear in their faces,” Unicef aid workers who recently sent food and blankets to about 900 orphaned and disadvantaged children in four centres at Kerbala to the southwest of Baghdad reported three days ago. 

They said the children met at the centres were very disturbed by what was happening around them. When asked what they wanted, the children asked for the bombings to stop, they added. 

Faces of children lying in blood and bandages with injured civilians in Baghdad hospitals are seen daily on Iraqi and Arabic broadcasts countering TV channels portraying the war as another high-tech video game of fireballs and bombs. 

As fierce fighting goes on in various parts of Iraq, anxious co-ordinating staff of United Nations agencies and the International Committee of Red Crescent, in touch with their ground staff, keep appealing to combatants to give special protection to the children who make up almost half of Iraq’s 24 million people. 

Because of more than a decade of economic sanctions, one out of eight Iraqi children has died before the age of five, one third of them were malnourished, one quarter were born underweight and another quarter lacked health facilities and safe drinking water. 

In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991 alone, more than 50,000 child deaths were reported due to malnutrition and infectious diseases ranging from cholera, typhoid to measles. 

Unicef spokesman Geoffrey Keele said that the agency staff were assessing the situation facing the Iraqi children who have stopped going to school since the first day of the bombings. 

Putting the casualty count on Sunday at 100, including children and women, Muin Kassis who is the communications head of ICRC in Amman, said the needs of the hospitals and the injured people were being assessed. 

“We cannot say under what circumstances they were wounded,” he said in explaining that his staff had been able to move around in Baghdad and Irbil but had some difficulty in Basra because of the fighting going on there. 

According to him, they were helping to restore water supply to Basra’s 1.2 million people after it was cut off due to a damaged power station and distributing relief materials to homeless people. 

Already badly traumatised, the relief agency workers said, the fearful and depressed children were now at grave risk of further starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma in the days to come once their three-week government food rations run dry. 

The aid agencies said there was no guarantee that smart bombs will always be smart although American and British forces have so far tried to be cautious in avoiding civilian casualties. 

They admit that it will be impossible at this moment to predict the nature of the next stage of the Iraqi war or the number of expected civilian deaths and injuries. 

But they stand by their view that casualties among children will be in the thousands, probably tens of thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands if there is no quick end to the war. 

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