Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq


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Guide to Sanctions

[Guide contents & introduction]

1. What's the problem with Iraq?

On 6 August 1990, the United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq in response to its invasion of Kuwait four days earlier. Under these sanctions, all imports into Iraq (except medical supplies) and all exports from Iraq were prohibited, unless the Security Council permitted exceptions. A spokesman from the US State Department later referred to these sanctions as "the toughest, most comprehensive sanctions in history". Similarly, a Select Committee of the UK House of Commons said that the Iraqi sanctions regime "is unprecedented in terms of longevity and its comprehensive nature" (§28).

Since 1990, there has been a severe deterioration in the standards of living of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Iraq. These problems have been detailed most clearly in two reports of the highest integrity, written in 1999.

Firstly, the Security Council itself set up a "Humanitarian Panel" to investigate the effects of sanctions. This Panel produced a report on 30 March 1999. It found that:

"In marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-91, the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world, low infant birth weight affects at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affects every fourth child under five years of age, only 41% of the population have regular access to clean water, 83% of all schools need substantial repairs. The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] states that the Iraqi health-care system is today in a decrepit state. UNDP calculates that it would take 7 billion US dollars to rehabilitate the power sector country-wide to its 1990 capacity." (§43).

Some of the panel's more specific findings were:

  • Infant And Maternal Health: "Low birth weight babies (less than 2.5 kg) rose from 4% in 1990 to around a quarter of registered births in 1997, due mainly to maternal malnutrition. UNFPA and other sources such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies believe that as many as 70% of Iraqi women are suffering from anaemia." (§18)
  • Malnutrition: "The dietary energy supply had fallen from 3,120 to 1,093 kilo calories per capita/per day by 1994 - 95. The prevalence of malnutrition in Iraqi children under five almost doubled from 1991 to 1996 (from 12% to 23%). Acute malnutrition in Center/South rose from 3% to 11% for the same age bracket. Results of a nutritional status survey conducted on 15,000 children under 5 years of age in April 1997 indicated that almost the whole young child population was affected by a shift in their nutritional status towards malnutrition (Nutritional Status Survey of Infants in Iraq, UNICEF November 7 1998)." (§19)
  • Prices: The UN World Food Programme "indicates that according to estimates for July 1995, average shop prices of essential commodities stood at 850 times the July 1990 level." (§19)
  • Infrastructure: "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 WFP estimates that access to potable water is currently 50% of the 1990 level in urban areas and only 33% in rural areas." (§20)
  • Health facilities: "Since 1991, hospitals and health centers have remained without repair and maintenance. The functional capacity of the health care system has degraded further by shortages of water and power supply, lack of transportation and the collapse of the telecommunications system. Communicable diseases, such as water borne diseases and malaria, which had been under control, came back as an epidemic in 1993 and have now become part of the endemic pattern of the precarious health situation, according to WHO." (§21)
  • Education: "School enrollment for all ages (6-23) has declined to 53%. According to a field survey conducted in 1993, as quoted by UNESCO, in Central and Southern governorates 83% of school buildings needed rehabilitation, with 8,613 out of 10,334 schools having suffered serious damages. The same source indicated that some schools with a planned capacity of 700 pupils actually have 4500 enrolled in them. Substantive progress in reducing adult and female illiteracy has ceased and regressed to mid-1980 levels, according to UNICEF. The rising number of street children and children who work can be explained, in part, as a result of increasing rates of school drop-outs and repetition, as more families are forced to rely on children to secure household incomes." (§22)
  • Society: On "the cumulative effects of sustained deprivation on the psycho-social cohesion of the Iraqi population [...] the following aspects were frequently mentioned: increase in juvenile delinquency, begging and prostitution, anxiety about the future and lack of motivation, a rising sense of isolation bred by absence of contact with the outside world, the development of a parallel economy replete with profiteering and criminality, cultural and scientific impoverishment, disruption of family life. [...] UNICEF spoke of a whole generation of Iraqis who are growing up disconnected from the rest of the world." (§25-26)
  • Mental health: The World Health Organization "points out that the number of mental health patients attending health facilities rose by 157% from 1990 to 1998 (from 197,000 to 507,000 persons)." (§25)
  • Economy: "The data provided to the panel point to a continuing degradation of the Iraqi economy with an acute deterioration in the living conditions of the Iraqi population and severe strains on its social fabric. As summarized by the UNDP field office, "the country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty"." (§43)

The second report was produced by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in August 1999. This was the summary produced by Unicef of their findings:

"The first surveys since 1991 of child and maternal mortality in Iraq reveal that in the heavily-populated southern and central parts of the country, children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said the findings reveal an ongoing humanitarian emergency...

The surveys reveal that in the south and center of Iraq -- home to 85 per cent of the country's population -- under-5 mortality more than doubled from 56 deaths per 1000 live births (1984-1989) to 131 deaths per 1000 live births (1994-1999). Likewise infant mortality -- defined as the death of children in their first year -- increased from 47 per 1000 live births to 108 per 1000 live births within the same time frame. The surveys indicate a maternal mortality ratio in the south and center of 294 deaths per 100,000 live births over the ten-year period 1989 to 1999.

Ms. Bellamy noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998."

No comprehensive review of the humanitarian situation in Iraq has been conducted since 1999. A February 2002 Unicef survey of the nutritional status of under-fives in South/Centre Iraq found:

"The deteriorating trend of malnutrition among under-five children seen throughout the 1990s has changed ... acute and general malnutrition are now less than half the levels of 1996, while chronic malnutrition has fallen by nearly 30% during the same period ... Despite gains, the present level of child malnutrition remains high compared to 1991 levels, which were already elevated after one year of sanctions."

The report went on to explain that:

"Many factors interact to affect the nutritional status of children ... For this reason, malnutrition is one of the most comprehensive indicators of the wellbeing of children, because it relies on the functioning of many sectors of society."

The information available on the current humanitarian situation in Iraq tends to support the conclusion of a Unicef report on The Situation of Children in Iraq, also from February 2002, that:

"the various arrangements put in place since 1996 to mitigate the impact of sanctions ... Overall, these efforts appear to have arrested the deterioration of the situation, but not to have greatly improved conditions for the majority of the population".

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